Monthly Archives: January 2015

fog

This winter, a relentless inverted fog has shrouded our valley. We are weeks into this trend; I’ve stopped paying much attention to the forecast which, according to our weather folk, is simply: “Gray.”

From the table where I write, the black relief of deciduous trees against a white surround looks like the smoky aftermath of war.

To find sun I could drive up out of the inversion to four or five thousand feet.  Many people do this. Above the white sea of our valley cars line the shoulder, their drivers standing next to the road with faces turned to the light.  Up there I’ve seen picnickers on the hoods of cars, games of hacky sack, lawn chairs with umbrellas. On weekends, a driver bound for the very top of the mountain must aim, not unlike Tour de France riders in the mountain stages, through this carnival gauntlet of parked sun-seekers.

But I don’t much seek the sun. Truthfully, I’m delighted about the inversion. With little temptation to go outside, it’s easier to keep my butt in the chair and work. Soon, it’ll be gardening season, a hard set of months on fiction.

It’s not for wimps, this writing life.  Solitary. Time-consuming. Hard emotional work.  Craziness. Spending so much time with magical people sometimes makes me feel less adept at communicating with the real ones. Recently I left the house (late, always late) wearing two different shoes and only noticed once I stood waiting in line at the post office. There is never enough time. I struggle to reconcile the insistent knocking to create against the inherent selfishness of world-making.

Today, my house is filthy. The refrigerator is beginning to look like an artifact from a college dorm.  Plenty of condiments, some moldy cheese, and something in a Tupperware container no one can identify. There’s a pile of laundry – neglected, growing. My daughter has no pants that fit and can’t drive herself to the store to get ones that do, she reminds me. We discussed her clothing quandary long enough to make her late to school this morning. Also, there was nothing to put in her lunch, she told me as she got out of the car.  Can’t you please go to the market before you work?

She’s on to me.

On the way home from school I scratched out a list of life chores.  If I raced through them first, I’d have time to write and then everyone would win, at least for today.

I started a load of laundry, hauled out the vacuum cleaner, and then got distracted by a text from a friend who’d shared a clip of Bill Moyers interviewing Louise Erdrich in April of 2010. Here ’tis:

Lovely and humble as ever, Erdrich steps around being compared to Faulkner, Hemingway, and Camus (clever woman-what possible answer to this question could there be?). Instead, she speaks about how she’s managed to write so prolifically while also being a mother, how she’s given herself permission to let the small things fall away.  To answer Moyers, Erdrich reads her poem “Advice to Myself”  (from Original Fire, 2003. Thumbs up to Garrison Keillor for making it Monday, November 19th, 2012’s The Writer’s Almanac piece). Here ’tis:

Leave the dishes. Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic—decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don’t sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

One hand on the vacuum handle, I considered the way of the universe’s mysterious gifts. Into my confusion descended the fierce creative mind of Louis Erdrich via my tiny, fierce community of writer friends.

Fierceness, the order of the day.

Outside, rain fell through the white ceiling of fog. After school, after solitude, there’d be time enough to find pants the right size, to visit the market. Vacuuming could wait.

I settled into my writing chair.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Categories: community, fiction, writing | Tags: , , | 12 Comments

warrior

Every year, standing at the threshold between years feels bittersweet.  The year in rear view a tangle of experiences powerful and ordinary, some regrettable. The year ahead brimming with possibility.

The new year will deliver another birthday, hopefully, and an age I’ll be surprised about. I don’t feel nearly as old as the data indicates. I’m beginning to understand how my ninety-three-year-old grandmother, even at the end when she insisted she was only sixty-four, couldn’t reconcile how fast her life had gone by.

In 2014 some dear friends spent the better part of the year ill, others navigated divorce, joblessness, financial ruin. Deaths of loved ones meant wrangling fresh grief. I hope wherever those souls are they are at peace.  Raising kids continues to be hard work, so often a befuddling puzzle difficult to decode with any sort of clarity. Looking back, I spent too much of the year wishing I had better tools for living, wishing I was braver.

In 2014 one of my favorite writers, Kent Haruf, passed away.  I considered him a friend, though I never met him. More, I considered him a mentor.  Reading Haruf’s novels helped me understand the fierce tenderness a person ought to strive for and inspired me to take my writing seriously.  His Plainsong – that spare, gentle tale of regular folk who learn to rely on and love each other like family – is the kind of story I hope to write someday. Until his death at the end of November, he wrote, talked about writing and also about getting ready to pass over to another place.  Six days before he died, he even gave one final interview.

I miss his presence in the world.  Though he left his readers with one last book, Our Souls at Night, due out in May, I miss already whatever future stories he might’ve created that won’t be told.  Wherever he is, I wish peace for him, too.

I’m hopeful a new year means my loved ones and I will be healthy and wise, kind and forgiving, productive and successful.  But I know a new year will have its share of struggles, ones I’ll hope to meet with grace and dignity.

In line for bagels this morning I listened to folks chatting over coffee, reflecting, planning how they would celebrate the end of this year.  On the magnetic board above the deli counter, some words by Pema Chodron reminded me to rejoice in the ordinary:

“Rejoicing in ordinary things is not sentimental or trite. It actually takes guts. Each time we drop our complaints and allow everyday good fortune to inspire us, we enter the warrior’s world.”

I didn’t know who she was, so back at home I asked Uncle Google about her – the first American woman to become a fully ordained Buddhist nun, an author, a teacher, a spiritual leader, a mother.  She has her own foundation.  She’s a bit of a rockstar. These words are from her work titled The Places That Scare You:  A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, a title that made me chuckle for its timeliness. A little barb to prod me in the direction of courage.

Waiting for my turn in the bagel line, I read her words again and again, comforted by the notion of being a warrior fierce and insistent in celebrating the fact of existence and the daily-ness of it.  It occurs to me that Kent Haruf would’ve agreed with Chodron, that his stories are about opening oneself to the grace of fully, purposefully inhabiting life with all its imperfections.  He seemed to do that himself until the end.

Onward to 2015, then, a year during which I’ll take experiences as they come, and work to be a warrior for gratitude.

 

 

Categories: books, family, fiction, writing | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.