Monday, December 31, 2012

Sing Your Story

For some time now, I have been controlling the Universe with my mind. Sorry about everything. Not that Everything is my fault, I'm only controlling a tiny portion of it. For instance, weeks ago I mused to Noah, in one of my "moments", that why don't they hire Tina Fey or Amy Poehler to host an awards show. Low and behold, a few days later came the announcement that they were doing that very thing. Shortly followed another occasion on which I said that some show (or perhaps a football team?) ought to do something, and shortly after--they did. "I made that happen with my brain," I said to Noah. "I know you did," he said, and we clinked our glasses lackadaisically. Of course, there are other things to consider: twice now I have been alone in my house when the television has turned on by itself. After it happened the second time I said aloud, "If you are here, turn it back on." I immediately realized how terrifying that would be and said "No don't don't don't don't don't," and it didn't. I puzzled over this for some time until, lying in bed last night, I realized that both times this happened I had been deeply absorbed in my writing, "in the zone" if you will, and of course the only conclusion is that I had turned the tv on with my mad creative energy.

So you see.

I'm not sure what I'm going to make happen in 2013. When I started 2012 in Longmont, Colorado, I had no idea I would end it in Brevard, North Carolina. I am hoping for renewal. I am hoping my husband will stop working 36 hour shifts (ok, it happened once) and I'll stop feeling like a single mother. What is on my mind lately is that, blog or not, life gives us chance after chance to rewrite our stories. If we don't like it, we can tell it again. If the story refuses to be rewritten, god bless we walk right out and find a new one.

I love you.

 2012: I edited my book, and edited it some more. Then I lost it in a computer crash. Then I got it back in a miracle. Starting in January, I will be editing it again.

I got some bees, who came to me from California, who I would later haul for three days in a van to North Carolina.

I scared the crap out of my kids.
 Indy was Indy.

Ayla was Ayla.

Their dad bought a canoe and used it once.

The rainbow ended here.
We went to visit North Carolina to see if we would move there.

We decided we would move there.

We said goodbye.

This happened to Noah:

The girls and I built a new life in Brevard. We swam in lakes and went on hikes and missed Noah through a long July, August, and September until he finally joined us again in October.

My mom and dad came to visit and we explored Asheville and Noah had to order new contacts and meanwhile wore his glasses, which he hates.

We explored Pisgah forest and saw the waterfalls.

My kids were rad:

I flew back to Denver to visit, and saw my sister's-in-law Lucy, Mercy, and Sophie. I also saw my own sister, but I don't look great in my pictures with her, so.

Christmas break happened (and is breaking me), and we went to Hendersonville and ate ice cream on a cold December day.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Proper Pagan Part II

One thing I love about the South is the deep stillness of a Sunday morning. The town has the silent resonance of the far woods on Sundays before nine a.m. because everybody--everybody--is in church. On the five minute drive to the grocery store, Indy and I pass no less than four churches. First Methodist, Brevard Wesleyan, Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, The Church of the Nazarene. All have full parking lots except, suspiciously, the Nazarene. I have planned to visit the grocery store like a proper pagan when all God's people are in church. I do not miss church except for, occasionally, with a pang of sentimentality for the rituals of my childhood. I have memories of brown paper bags on Christmas Eve, stuffed with oranges and apples and chewy peppermint nougat. I have memories of the dry must of coat closets back when certain ladies still wore fur. I still sing "O Come Emmanuel" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "O Holy Night" while honoring the solstice. I can do both. I asked Ayla if she wanted to go to church on Christmas Eve, with the Unitarian church in mind. I have no blueprints for how to raise children who are spiritually informed and aware but not indoctrinated. Ayla said no, and then said, "well, if you want to, we can," in a way that meant she didn't want to hurt my feelings.

I only asked because the pressure to make Christmas special is high this year. I'm not sure which I miss more, Christmas in Colorado or Christmas in California, but I miss both. One was all the traditions of my childhood, the other was mimosas on the beach while dolphins rise in the distance. I don't know how to do Christmas in Carolina, in the rain, without the cousins and the snow, or the sand and sunshine. I asked Noah if he wanted cinnamon rolls and Swedish pancakes on Christmas morning. (He'll do the dinners). "Not both. Don't do too much or you'll freak out. I'M DOING THIS FOR YOU," he mock roared in an imitation of me I found hilarious. "I JUST WANT YOU TO BE HAPPY! ALL THIS YELLING IS FOR YOU. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW??"

He summed up almost exactly how I feel.

After getting our mint, rosemary and thyme, Indy and I push the cart through the chill quiet to the car. "Don't you just love December?" Indy sighs rapturously, her breath puffing the air. Tucked in the van, she shifts to giddy, like any six-year-old two days before Christmas. She pushes herself up on the arms of the passenger seat and kicks her pink-glittered legs at the dashboard. "I'm just. So! Excited! For CHRISTMAS!" When I tease her and say that I thought she wanted lots of socks and underwear for Christmas, her cheer proves indomitable. "Well, it would be nice to have some pink socks," she says sincerely. Earlier I asked her what she wanted to do to make Christmas special. She said she wanted to send more gifts to her cousins. Last night we snuggled on the couch together watching the Grinch, and at the climactic scene when the Who's down in Whoville awake to find all their presents vanished, but gather in the town square to sing anyway, Indy turned to me and said, "That's because he took all their things but he couldn't take their spirits. Their spirits is where their happy lives and he couldn't take that, anyway." I told her maybe they were robots who were happy only because they were programmed to be, thus rendering their bright spirits meaningless. She was bordering a bit Pollyanna, even for her mother. Indy just smiled and said no, that wasn't true, and didn't I think the Grinch had a weird face? I don't worry much about where they'll land, spiritually. I have no illusions about the amount of influence I have on the matter. Last night I lay awake in bed and remembered them both as infants. From the moment they were born, Ayla, intensely alert and sensitive, cried and railed about all the ways and wrongs of the world. Indy only ever had one cry, the one that simply wanted to be held.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Proper Pagan

 Backyard, North Carolina, Winter Solstice. Long after dawn.

Today I wake to Solstice light and the sad truth that I was raised too Christian to make a proper pagan. I would have liked to rise at 3:11 as the Finger of God touched Jupiter (or something), lit a fire, smudged sage, and welcomed in the new era that all the spiritually-inclined people I follow on twitter are talking about. I would have liked to plan a ceremony, done sun salutations, written all my sorrows down on paper, burned them in the light of the first rays of sun, scattered the ashes of every disappointment into the green soft earth of Carolina, where the trees and flowers would have chewed them into food to spark new life. I would have liked to have done all that, but instead I slept too late when I knew I should wake early to beat the rush to the grocery store. Then I pinned a lot of pictures of beautiful things to Pinterest while drinking coffee out of a white mug I bought because Oprah suggested it might be classy. To spark up some fun, I burst in on Ayla, happily playing with her horses in her newly cleaned room, crouching like a linebacker with my fingers clenched like a super villian's and roaring "CHRISTMAS! CHRISTMAS! CHRISTMAAAAAAS!" I scared the dickens out of her, which was frankly good for us both. Last night I tried to meditate in bed, which is never a good idea for me because I just end up sleeping. But I wanted to find some peace in the holiday clamor, the most important package that may not be delivered, the bonus that didn't come. I closed my eyes and exhaled completely, hoping for insight to troubling situations: how to heal this earth, how to twice-bake potatoes, how to make both meaning and rib roast at Christmas. At this point I was still thinking I might wake at 3:11 am to the Finger of God. I can never remember the full mantra, so I repeated it silently the way I hear it: May the long time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and may the odds be ever in your favor. Not kosher, I know, but I'm a spiritual gypsy and can therefore do as I please. My mantra and deep-breathing gave no insight to my conundrums, but they did bring me a lengthy dream of Jensen Ackles in a Magic Mike-type situation, which really was better for me than anything I knew to ask for.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Today I want to say that I am overwhelmingly glad to be home with my daughters. We are listening to carols, even though. We are baking cookies, even though. My mind went crazy this morning, bouncing around every direction, rustling up its own fear and anger until some wise part of me said, enough. Enough, and I signed out of all social media. I stopped clicking over to NPR and HuffPo. Enough, enough. The worst has happened, I have shed my tears, that is enough. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil, writes Jack Gilbert, and to me this is truth. When I write about not succumbing to the madness, I mean not making war in my own soul. Not giving myself over to fear or anger or hate. Not allowing myself to sink into dismay. I believe this is how to heal the world, and so I will do what I can. I will turn myself away, again and again, from anger and despair. I slipped up, of course I did. I have opinions on what should be done, in weak moments I broadcast them but in my heart I knew this was wrong for me. Not wrong for everyone--social change needs its mouthpiece--but wrong for me. If I contributed to your agitation, I am sorry. I do not want to agitate. I want to find the stillness in my soul and stay there. Dwell there, because I can't help anybody by dwelling in sorrow and despair. If I succumb to fear, to anger, to madness, I will only go on to plant that pain in others and who knows what sparks that might ignite? Today I stayed home with my daughters. Ayla is sick and sleeping on the couch, Indy is bright-eyed in the kitchen, in my apron strings, hugging me close. The trees are lit, the fire burns, the sorrow is deep but so too is this pleasure. Today we love each other and take joy in our lives. Tomorrow I will do my Christmas shopping and be grateful for my life and allow whatever joy might come.

Even though.

*Thanks again to Elizabeth Aquino for posting the Jack Gilbert poem.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Strange December

At dawn I drove the girls to school through a landscape covered in thick white frost. Everything still and glistening. The grass here remains green, and the kudzu, and there are green leaves on two trees in my backyard. It is a strange December. I don't know this place where I am. The bare winter woods, the mild afternoons, the humidity gathered every morning on my windows. I feel dull about Christmas and don't know what to blame--my total lack of shopping, our new home here in the semi-south, an artistic holdout between the deeper dixies of Georgia below and Virginia above. I haven't seen my husband since approximately December 5th and I miss him, and I'm so proud of him, and I'm just floating along. Brevard suffers a depressing lack of Christmas lights, almost nobody has bothered. Myself included. It had occurred to me the night before, as I sat ensconced in a knit blanket before my two lit trees and the Christmas special of Downton Abbey, that it's up to me to create Christmas this year, for the first time in my life. I can't arrive at my mother's or sister's house and find Christmas achieved (and it is an achievement, women know this) as I always have in the past. I have to achieve it myself. I dropped the girls at school and drove home as the sun hit the frosted hills around me, a dazzling winter white glittering in the near distance. It felt good to breath in the cold air. Inside, I sat by the living room window and watched the sun illumine spider webs still spinning in the trees and I thought about rib roasts and wine cakes and wondered what the hell I was going to do.

Then, distraction: a youtube video of Jimmy Fallon brings back a memory of summer. It was July, we were moving across the country. I was in the van with my children, alone with them as I would be for the next two months. We had stopped for gas in Overland Park, Kansas. Carly Rae Jeppsen was playing on the radio, it was our first day of driving. Evening was coming on, we were already road weary, we were shooting through the Midwest in search of St. Louis, in search of a new home. I was happy as I always am in a car headed somewhere new. Before I knew all the wonderful things Brevard held waiting for us, before I started saying "girl" and "y'all" and "for a hot minute" like a loathsome poseur, the maps app on my phone took us on a detour through a neighborhood and we rolled all the windows down and danced in our seats. It was free slurpee day at the 7-11 we gassed up at and we sucked down our circus-colored drinks and smiled as the snowy sugar soothed our aching bones. We rounded a corner and a hideous bug, a flying spider with a lobster shell, shot through the open window and Ayla began to scream. iPhone, Slurpee, steering wheel--which to release? "Kill it, Indy! Kill it! Take off your shoe and kill it!" I yelled. Screaming, Indy did. This girl who tells me she isn't brave beat the monster to death with the back of her sparkly jelly. The colossal skies of the west were still above me. It is amazing how much your life can change and still be exactly the same. In minutes we were back on the highway, speeding east across a curved and welcoming land. Before you came into my life I missed you so bad, I missed you so, so bad.

Monday, December 10, 2012

December 9th, 2012

Yesterday Noah worked twelve hours and I put the girls in the car and drove over the mountain and through the woods to Trader Joe's in Greenville, SC. It was a warm day, humid from the previous night's rain. A gas station in Greenville County had an ostrich, or an emu, in a large pen in the back and the girls watched it from the car while I went inside to buy them cokes and orange crackers with peanut butter inside, a snack I have been obsessed with ever since Temple procured some for her drive through post-apocalyptic Florida in the gorgeous Southern Zombie Gothic, The Reapers are The Angels--a book I wish I had written but of course, could not have, not being Southern nor ever having read much Southern Gothic beyond an Anne Rice phase at thirteen, when I would lie awake on summer evenings until one am or later, absorbed in the lives of the Mayfair witches. Greenville County is also where the devastating "Bastard Out Of Carolina" by Dorothy Allison is set, a book I read recently and was broken by, so there you have it. I bet you never would have guessed a drive through backwoods South Carolina could be so literary.

The end-of-times crackers were fitting, as South Carolina on a Sunday morning was apocalyptically quiet, everyone tucked away at church and the streets empty, the hardware stores and grocery outlets and even coffee houses closed. (The one bizarre exception was a cotton candy truck blazing carnival lights from an empty parking lot). We turned off our French carols as we wound out of the hills and put on Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, all three of us singing along. The girls are learning rhythm and I spend a lot of time, these days, slapping one palm against my thigh in beat while driving down country roads.

I am feeling unbothered by Christmas. Removed from the shopping frenzy, which I hate. It's easy here, with no mall in sight, nary even a Cost Plus or Target. Over the course of the last few Christmases I have tried to remove myself, gradually, from the things I dislike about the Christmas season and toward more of the things I love. For me this means little to no time shopping and a shortened personal wishlist--which is, I admit, still a bit tricky for me--and more peaceful time with my daughters. So we drove to Trader Joe's and bought gingerbread house kits, which sent the girls into raptures of delight. The day before we had walked with our friends two doors down, to the house where a 92-year-old-man lives with Christmas trees sprouting up in his backyard and kindly allows folks to come cut them down and drag them home. Noah was at work, so our friends sawed down the tree for me and carried it up the hill, forced its considerable girth through my door. We propped it up and it fell down three times, once on Indy, who caught it and who insisted she wasn't brave, even though she stood there bearing up this giant tree-hemoth with one tiny little arm while her older sister cried in fetal position on the floor (no exaggeration) until I could rush from the bathroom to help her. Except for one bad moment when I realized I'd spent too much money on champagne and coffee, I have felt remarkably zen. This week I will clean the house and maybe string some lights. This weekend we will bake cookies and make ornaments together, the girls and I and maybe, just maybe, their father. Last night, after spending the day singing and drinking Coke and making gingerbread houses, Indy was rapturously happy as she was tucked into bed. She snuggled between me and her father, her face beaming, smiling so dopily we would later joke that perhaps she was high. "Did you have a good day?" Noah asked her and she nodded, beaming. We kissed her goodnight and went out to sit by treehemoth and the fire. Tension is running high with Noah's job keeping him away from home for twelve hours or more, the last seven days. He worked straight through the weekend and was back at work early Monday morning. Earlier we'd fought, a little bit, mostly from stress but now we sat by the fire and I thought, no matter what, today Indy is happy, and Ayla is happy,  my tree is fat and, what a luxury, my larder is stocked with coffee and champagne.

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