These days, I am actively trying to cultivate self-confidence during a stretch of life in which my self-confidence is waning. (From what my 40+ female friends tell me, I’m not alone.) That said, from time to time, the confidence of the Self benefits from the love and appreciation of the outside world.
An unexpected email last night from my editor at District Lit led to a huge boost in productivity and output. I woke up to an urge to clean the fridge, sweep the floors, then work on a essay chapbook I’m hoping to submit next month.
After that, I dug up an old, short flash CNF piece I never quite perfected, edited it and submitted it.
What’s gotten into me? For sure, a healthy dose of acknowledgement, which isn’t so bad, really, as long as it’s not the only drug you’re into.
Head on over to District Lit to see which two pieces were nominated. While you’re there, please check out the work of the other nominees, too, in poetry and fiction.
I’m giddy with excitement to let you know my first feature column went up on District Lit yesterday. “My Time, Your Place” is an ongoing exploration of the boundaries between reality and dream, time and timelessness, place and wandering. (The title is borrowed in part from the Yehuda Amichai poem, “In My Time, In Your Place.”)
I hope you check it out from time to time, and share with your friends if the writing moves you to do so.
As a tribute to Amichai, whose poetry inspires me in so many ways, here is the poem the title references.
I had the dream again last night in which it’s you and me and him and her at a dinner party and the lighting is for grownups, but for some reason there are children in the room. I made meringues for the children for dessert. They came out fluffy and perfect and I wanted them to stay that way – the meringues – except, inevitably they deflated. “No matter,” my husband said in the dream. “They’re still sweet.”
The dinner party is awkward even though the lighting is good. Like the last time I dreamed us at an awkward dinner party, the lighting is mostly by candle with a touch of track over a brick mantle and the scene is set for adults, which is to say there are things nearby that may be broken.
She is in black as she always is. As for me, I picked out something new to wear just before arriving. I tried it on for my husband in the store, invited him into the dressing room. “The tag said the outfit was 3D,” I told him, but only when I take my glasses off am I able to see the shapes moving in the mirror.
I am a sucker for signs. I see evidence for action in unusual places: on the bumper sticker that says “I miss you!,” on the tractor trailer in front of me on the highway, or in that dream in which cats have snuck into my hotel room and eaten up all the free pastries left on a tray by the door, or when Nina Simone sings “For Myself” at the same time an article on the Self written by Maria Popova pops up in my feed.
This week, old houses keep popping up, too — mine and others’. In poems I haven’t written yet, but also in my waking life.
* * *
Clue #1: After my middle son finished Key to the Treasure the other day, I was certain he was going to choose Clues in the Woods because choosing Haunted House would be very unlike him — he, like I am, is scared to be scared, especially before bed.
But he chose Haunted House, and after checking in with him to make sure this was the one he wanted to read next, we began.
Clue #2: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: “Leonard had grown up in an Arts & Crafts house whose previous owner had been murdered in the front hall. The grisly history of 133 Linden Street had kept the house on the market for years.”
Clue #3: This article from December about memory and mentally mapping our homes — it showed up at the top of my Twitter feed today. More than the study results, I was struck by the dollhouse image used to illustrate the story. Dollhouses have a way of being so inviting and so terrifying at the same time. Like old hotels. Like Stephen King. I felt this way before I read The Dollhouse Murders and long before I saw The Shining.
Clue #4 is a secret. I won’t tell it, but no matter.
I haven’t figured out yet how to explain to Janice in 200 words why it feels as though I am already the winner.
This makes me sound like a narcissist and I want to sound like a dreamer. Or at least like someone who lives her life one foot atop one pole and one foot atop the other.
I want to explain to Janice that the word Maine is blue and that I love that northern state because I spent four summers at overnight camp there, three of which I spent in love and that this is a good thing, not a thing that makes me crazy, but makes me the type of person who other people — guests — will be happy to see in the morning. And anyway, my husband will be the one cooking breakfast and serving pancakes in the shapes of native birds. Once he served our dinner guests sweet potato pancakes with a dollop of wasabi sour cream that was as delicate as a meringue. I will be the one who organizes the books in the library each night. (There will be vintage National Geographic magazines and perhaps a set of Encyclopedia Brittannica, too.) I will be the one who changes the sheets. I will keep the ghosts appeased. I will invite them to have tea in the garden so they don’t frighten the guests.
* * *
I had a dollhouse once. It was this one. Not this exact one, but its doppelganger.
* * *
I still love miniatures.
I love it that my husband sneaks into the bathroom before bed to set up clever scenes with the Playmobil my daughter left behind after her bath, with the purpose of surprising me when I happen upon them before brushing my teeth.
I especially love the miniature toilet and the European style hand shower: Bathroom appliances were never furnished with the dollhouses I played with as a child.
Which brings me back to the dream of the cats eating pastries in my hotel room.
I had been in the bathroom when they snuck in. They took advantage of my uniquely human need to relieve myself in privacy.
I was angry at first, but I couldn’t blame them. After all, I had left the front door open.
If I collected pretty purple waves of light every time I said the word “free,” perhaps I’d be the kind of free i really want to be. not gluten free, not nut free, not sugar free, fat free, or buy one get one free, not
Groupon free, but really free. Worry free is close, but not close enough. My desire is the kind of free at least three meters away from a hyphen. mine must be at a certain distance from a noun in order to avoid possible cross-contamination. mine, I’d tell the chef, burns easily, so keep it in a cool, dry place like the yellow bowl high atop the counter where little hands covered in Play-doh can’t reach it.
It’s sad, really, how we’ve corrupted free, compounded it, like mad scientists preparing the liquid version for the old man who can no longer swallow pills. It used to be so pretty: wide orange all-caps. Now free is a deflated nude, the letters warped like old records left too many years in the back storage room of my parents’ basement. I wish I had the key
Mindfulness is the clucking sound your tongue makes as you’re almost jogging along the paved road that surrounds your community — the view ahead is of the silken skim of the reservoir and the breeze is balanced with the rays of sun peeking in and out from scattered clouds — and you realize that you are alone and that your body today feels whole and that your mind is working in a way that makes you like yourself and you’re laughing for the fourth time remembering that scene in Nathan Englander’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank and this right now is the life you mean when you say, “I want to live.”
The clucking sound, though, is what awareness sounds like; what stumbling over impermanence sounds like — Because suddenly you remember the last time you said you wanted to live was that time last week with the tingles in your left arm and you cringe because your phone is not in your right pocket and you might be missing the call from school, the call that will certainly ripple the silken skim but without you attending it because your mind now is working in the way that makes you hate yourself and you’re not laughing anymore, in fact, you’ve forgotten Nathan Englander and nothing is funny.
The clucking sound, though, is what awareness sounds like; what stumbling over impermanence sounds like — Because suddenly you realize that impermanence is a most glorious word, the one you’ve been seeking your whole life, the one to describe peace on Earth, peace enough for me. Impermanence is the name of that curved line between yin and yang. It has a name!
Impermanence is the clucking sound marking in between; marking eternal ending and eternal beginning. It’s a spot. It’s a poof. It’s a landing pad where I straddle my legs and press my feet down and wait.
“How do you call ‘stav” in English, again, mommy?” he asks, as we make our way up the hill.
“Fall,” the bigger one says quickly.
“Or Autumn,” I say.
“Autumn,” he repeats. “Right.”
“Autumn is the fancier version,” says the bigger one.
“Yes, there’s something delicate about the word, Autumn,” I say.
Also, something composed and at ease, I think, and an ache passes through me. I decide to share it.
“You know,” I say, “sometimes you use the word ‘autumn’ when describing a time of your life. As in, ‘the autumn of her life.’ Spring is the beginning. Summer, the season of joy and play. Then Autumn. I think I might be approaching Autumn.”
“No, mom,” says the bigger one. “You’re still in Summer.”
“Really?” I ask. And I mean it.
Tell me, I want to say to him. Tell me how I’m still in Summer.
And he does, without my asking.
“You’re still healthy. You’re still young.” His brother nods.
I don’t correct them. Not out loud. I yearn to, though. To warn them. To make them see.
“You’re definitely not in Autumn yet,” he continues. “Autumn is like 50. At least 50.”
Later, we see an old man cautiously taking on a series of stone steps. He approaches each rise from the right, first with the rubber bottom of his cane; then lifting one leg; then the second.
As we pass this man on the stairs — we going down — I understand that if asked, this man might place me at the crossroads where Spring meets Summer. And I could see how he could see me there. How he’d laugh at me if I asked him “which season,” and respond with something like “youth is wasted on the young.”
My young one looks at me and says in a whisper, “That man is in Winter.” And then louder asks, “What season am I, mommy?”