I am beginning the year with an inquiry into joy. Specifically joy in my writing.
Last year, the joy dribbled out of me. Let’s just say some things happened and gradually, writing began to feel like a duty. A have-to. A if-I-don’t, I-won’t-be me-and-I-may-as-well-die feeling. It was terrible. I dreaded sitting down to face the blank page. Too much was riding on the words.
I know a bit about why it was happening and I will get into in later posts. Maybe. But for now, I am announcing my inquiry into joy. What will it be? Showing up here every day for ten to fifteen minutes and connecting with the freedom of writing. For me.
Why here? Where it can be read by anyone? Well, it makes me take the sitting down and doing it a bit more seriously. That’s all.
Have I experienced joy while writing? Yes. Absolutely. I love the experience of creating a character and having them explain their world to me. I love explaining the world to myself. I love revealing self to self and self to other.
Also, a little over two years ago, I fell in love. Slowly and madly. It was delicious. It began by writing. Every day for four months. I couldn’t wait to sit down at the page and share secrets, memories and stories. That was joy. And when I wasn’t at the page, I was writing in my head. That was joy. Every minute at the page (and not) was joy.
At the end of those four months, we kissed.
That was a different kind of joy.
When you’re given a prompt like love or longing, it can get a little esoteric. It works to ground the a big topic in a concrete object. It is way to tell something slant.
Love in terms of a handkerchief.
My father reaches into his pocket and hands me his white handkerchief. It doesn’t come out of his sleeve like a hanky from my grandmother. No, it’s neatly folded, half, then half again, then one more time so it is a 3×3 square. He hadn’t used it. Putting a handkerchief his pocket was part of how he got dressed in the morning. Right before he went out the door. Did his mother or father tell him to do it?
“Bill, you should always have a handkerchief with you.”
“Bill, don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve.”
“Bill, sniffing your nose like that is so impolite. Use. Your. Handkerchief. Blow your nose.”
Who knows? I wasn’t there.
Maybe it was a habit born out of necessity. No Kleenex. Instead, they had these linen or fine cotton squares, folded in the man’s pocket or tucked in a woman’s sleeve. Maybe it was another way for the upper class to distinguish themselves from the drooling and sniveling masses, stained with with dried mucus up and down their sleeves. Again, I wasn’t there.
My father gave me the handkerchief because I was crying. I don’t remember why I was crying at this moment. Boyfriend. School. I really don’t remember. I cried a lot as a teenager. And it made my father uncomfortable. But he always he reached in his pocket and handed me his neatly folded handkerchief. I sobbed into it. Tears. Snot. Mascara. Once, I tried to hand it back to him and he looked at it like, “Ick.”
Then life went on. My tears were shed. My snotty nose was wiped. We didn’t talk much about what caused the upset. It was over. It was in the rearview mirror. He wasn’t phobic about feelings. He came girded with the handkerchief and he quietly let me dissolve into it. But he wasn’t keen on parsing out the beginning, middle or end of an upset. Let’s move on, shall we?
I gripped one of his handkerchiefs at his funeral.
I’ve taken to putting his folded cloth squares in my purse before I go anywhere. Just in case. Someone cries. Or sneezes. Or needs that soft white square.
I know I have one body.
One body. One planet from which to land and take off.
In the beginning, it feels like we have many bodies.
The little kid.
The young woman.
And then somewhere in our thirties, they all begin to merge as one.
One garden from which to tend our soul.
Even then, I pushed to do more: motherhood, career, lover, wife, friend.
I want everything.
I want to do all of it with this one body.
I want to feel it all. Yeah.
Except there are limitations.
There I was with my daughter at the Whole Foods rink in December.
I skated for an hour. I feel confident. Music is playing.
So I dance. And I fall.
People say they heard my head hit the ice. Thud.
Not crack. Thud.
I go to the doctor’s. He looks in my eyes. He tells me what to watch for.
I do not have a concussion.
I do not have a brain bleed.
I am fine.
But I know I will never ice skate again.
I will never risk my one body, my one brain on the ice again.
A few years later. I ask for a jump rope for Christmas.
I take the rope to the Y. I jump. My feet hurt.
No, they ache.
The cartiledge in my feet is gone. I can’t jump rope anymore.
Do I chafe at these limitations?
Not yet and a little.
I notice them. I note the passing of me.
I notice the closing of different parts of my garden.
But I also celebrate the container.
Sometimes that freedom and immortality of all those different bodies was too much.
Now I tend to this one garden
This smaller plot
I’ve never been one to stare at the stars. The ocean. The Mountains. Sunrises. Sunsets. I’m all about them. I gulp them in with my eyes. Stars. Nighttime. Not so much. I don’t know what I’m looking at. It’s like trying to read a book in a different language. Or with glasses that don’t work right. It makes me restless. And frustrated. And pretty soon I close my eyes. It’s nighttime. Why not sleep and let the stars take care of themselves? But here on the eastern edge of Block Island, I look up at the stars. The new moon has set. It’s only stars up there. And the sound of waves on Pebbly Beach. I am tucked in close to his body on the aluminum chaise lounge. It isn’t as though I can read the stars any better. But tonight their indecipherability is a comfort. Life has so many indecipherable moments and relationships and problems. They weigh us down. But not tonight. Tonight they drift up and get lost in the unreadable stories up there. Down here, we rest weightless and insignificant in each other’s arms. It is all that matters.
The trick with big concepts in your writing is that they lay flat on the page if you go at the them intellectually. But if you talk about them in terms of something specific like an object, the concept comes alive.
Here is my effort this week:
Longing-In terms of a barometer…
I still want it. I can see it on the wall by the front door. I should have taken it. I should have tucked it into my suitcase as I left the house for the last time. But, really, why take a barometer to Texas when it had lived its whole life at the beach? Would its delicate calibrations to the air pressure by the ocean cease to work in city with a only a river running through it?
Part of me wonders if the barometer ever really worked. I’d come downstair every morning for breakfast and tap tap tap the face of it. Most always the needle moved. Down meant a low pressure system, a storm was in the offing. Up meant clear weather. If it didn’t move much at all, that meant whatever weather we were having would continue. That was the extent of my weather forecasting ability. Really. You’d think the way I tap tap tapped that barometer I might have wanted to go to meterological school. After all, weather predicting was a favorite past time in my family. My father loved to comment about the wind shifts and colors of sunsets. My mother believed that everything was better on a bright sunny day. Why wouldn’t I want to go into the business of predicting my family’s humor and fate? I suppose I didn’t because knowledge kills the mystery and I love the mystery. I love the expectancy of wondering what’s going to happen. Not knowing. Being surprised. Rolling with it.
Why even tap that barometer then?
Probably for the same reason I look at the stupid weather apps: to get a leg up on surprise. Or to know and then let it go. It’s funny how I abhor the lengthy weather conversation—the precursor to connection or a prolonged avoidance tactic. Someone told me once that weather conversations like sports conversations help people relax their diaphragms. They are like good bits of foreplay and allow you to breathe and relax and arch into the meat of an issue. Perhaps. Mostly what I witnessed was long weather and sports convo mixed with bloody marys and vodka martinis and then a storm. A gully washer. Which may or may not have cleared the air but definitely left the ground slightly wrecked.
I can predict the weather pretty well now without the weather apps. I think it’s because the barometer was the beginning of my noticing. Yes, I picked up my father’s sense of wind shifts. But I can also storms coming in the change in water color. I can tell clearing clouds from fronts. And I love watching a storm blow in from across a desert or an ocean. Even if the rain never actually falls on me, it’s like watching a sunrise or a sunset: Certain and magical all on its own.
So why do I still want that barometer? Why do I still think about it? Why do I wish I could see it one more time?
So that I can hear the tap tap tap and remember rounding the corner of the beach house into the kitchen where my mother and father drank coffee and talked about the plans of the day.
So that I can feel the promise of a day at the beach or on my bike or something else.
So that I can touch that simple ritual and know that whatever happens something is marking the unseen pressures in the air.