Friday, October 26, 2018
Ever since last fall I have been preoccupied with birds in the sky. Wild geese, like in the Mary Oliver poem. It must be because I had lived so long in places where the geese did not cross on their yearly migration from one place that is a mystery to me to another. I don't remember ever missing the geese while in Santa Fe or Brevard, but once we were back in Colorado I didn't want to take my eyes off them. They don't captivate me when grounded, but only in flight. I remember clearly standing outside my sister's house, one night last year in late fall when my husband was still in California, and stopping to watch a flock of them sail across a frosty moon in a near-black sky. It was a Halloween moon, very full, the air smoky, the veil thin. The geese were a wonder, true wild things, able to live as they do here in the unnatural world we have made.
The geese were on a tarot card I had drawn repeatedly over my two years in Santa Fe, when I was trying to decide whether or not to leave my marriage. The tarot deck was called The Wild Unknown and in it, geese were used to represent one of the major arcana--The Lovers. I took it as an encouragement to stay, despite everything that was happening and everything between us. We left North Carolina following a large eruption of my volcano life, and I spent an entire year after that in a liminal space. My husband and I functioned, for that year, as partners and teammates in our children's lives and not as husband and wife, because it had to be decided if the thing that had happened could be tolerated. Could be lived beyond. Over and over again that year, I would talk to the Spirit (Goddess, God, whatever you might call it) and draw The Lovers. Two geese. Mates for life. I took it as a sign that the marriage was worth saving. I don't read tarot to predict the future. I read it to hear what's in my own heart. But this decision was too big, too scary. Everything hurt. I didn't know what was in my own heart.
The Lovers is a card that's easily misunderstood.
About a year into our time in Appalachia, my husband had brought up ending our marriage. I had been completely blindsided. I had never thought of us as anything other than lifetime partners, and the fact that he had felt like its own form of betrayal. We had a long and tortured night of conversation, after which I went into the bathroom, sat on the floor with my back to the door, and sobbed the foundation of my life up out of the ground, through my root chakra, and all the way out through my crown. I went to bed. In the morning he said he was sorry he'd made me cry like that, and that we would try to make this marriage work. And we did try. Or we didn't. Or we did, but not hard enough. It depends on who you ask, and when.
Then we fled to Santa Fe and I brought up ending the marriage and he didn't want to. So we stayed out there in the desert, and I went to work in the movies and he worked at another brewery and I went for walks in the desert and in the mystic mountains, and the girls grew two years older by dizzying increments. Towards the end of 2017 my husband was falsely diagnosed with cirrhosis, and went to rehab. It became clear that this life was not sustainable. We collapsed.
Then we moved back to Denver and there were wild geese in the sky.
* * *
It always happens in October, it seems. In October we got married, in October Ayla was born, in October we moved from Santa Fe to Denver, and then in October I moved out of our apartment in Fort Collins, where we had lived for six tremulous months as a family, and into my parent's house in Littleton, because my husband had decided he wanted a divorce.
I am trying to be fair to both of us here, which is why I say that we'd both brought up divorce over the years--who has been married for 16 years and never once thought about divorce?--but it is also true and honest to say that in the end, I wanted to reconcile, and in the end, it wasn't up to me.
Indy came to Littleton with me for a week, but then it became clear that the change in our living situation combined with another change of schools was too much for her (and wouldn't it be too much for anyone?), and so she went back to Fort Collins where, for right now, she lives during the weeks with Ayla, her dad, and her Grammy, in her Aunt's walk-out basement, and where she and Ayla can finish out the school year. Because they have been to so very many different schools in so few years, these indomitable and enduring daughters of mine.
This part of it--having the girls on weekends and holidays only--is too awful for me to talk about. I'm not sure if I can bear it and I'm not certain it will be borne. People keep talking about the dust settling, but ending a sixteen-year marriage and losing your home, your life partner, and your entire existence as a full time mother is not about dust settling. It is about beginning the process of sifting through years and years of accumulated dust, dust so thick it goes up to your eye balls and it feels like you can't breath, it becomes a sludge and you are swimming in it and it seems like maybe you will never get out.
Here's what I have learned about divorce: no matter what impressions you might have formed, divorce is not about just a couple, and it is not about self-actualization, not necessarily. Maybe it can be about that eventually. But at its root, it is about taking this holy, sacred, living and breathing entity that you and your partner have built together with your children, and wrenching it apart. Killing it. Divorce is a death. It razes everything to the ground. You and your children must try to find each other, somehow, inside the ashes. And your children must also try to find your spouse. And though you can see your spouse through the smoke and rubble, you are now strangely, impossibly, forbidden from going to them for comfort--the one person you have always turned to throughout your entire adult life. Divorce is sometimes necessary and sometimes a relief, but not always, and I can only tell you that from here, it does not feel like freedom.
For days, grief crashed over me, wave after wave, a grief so terrible and powerful and overwhelming that I believed it was a tide that would pin me to the ocean floor and hold me there forever, until I died. It was too much pain to hold. It made time bend and undulate in strange and unsettling ways. It has filled me full to the brim with nostalgia for other times and other lives and other mothers I have been. A new mother of small children. A mother of small town, Southern kids. I even wish I could go back to being a Santa Fe desert mother, because although everything was falling apart around me, the girls and I had each other. Every day I dropped them off and picked them up from school and brought them back to our home, every day we went to bed and woke up in the same house, we passed the minutes and days this way. So that even when things were bad, there was the four of us--there was home.
The center of the grief, the nadir of it, is the moment when you have to tell your children. When you have to hold their life up in front of them and shoot it between the eyes and watch it die, and watch their faces as they watch it die. That is another thing that is too painful for me to write about, and it is something I would have done anything, absolutely anything, to prevent. After we told them, they went into their room and I went into mine and I fell to the floor, too alive and burning too brightly to bare with the force of all that sorrow. I made an unearthly sound out of my gut and my throat and my chest because the once-breathing, holy, beautiful monster that was our marriage had just died. From the floor of my bedroom, I could see only a strip of narrow sky. Somehow I kept my eyes up even though I had turned into a ghost, and I watched as across that sliver of sky passed a flock of geese, wild and vibrant and vibrating like the red stone of life I imagine sits in the basement of all our bellies, our sacred fire keeping us alive. A flock of wild geese, honking in the bright, bearing themselves across the curvature of the sky with only the strength of their wings, gliding from one mystery into the next, with no understanding of the word bereft.
Monday, August 24, 2015
Ayla and I went to Target for school supplies. She is entering 5th grade, her last year of elementary school. How this happened, I do not know. How it has been 11 years since I awaited the entrance of this child into the world is one of the great mysteries. I couldn't bring myself to say no to anything she asked for. Shiny new lunchbox with geometrical print, okay. Matching new water bottle with matching geometric print, toss it in there. Ayla was determined to get a white backpack and white shoes, both of which she would decorate with sharpies. The backpack had to be ordered online, the shoes, after some setbacks, were found by Grammy at Kohl's. Ayla gets these grand ideas in her head and I know she will be despondent if they don't work out, and I go to great lengths to prevent this despondency. When we got out of the car at Target I started singing to Ayla "back to school, back to school, to prove to dad I'm not a fool," in an Adam Sandler voice, and that is how I learned that Adam Sandler does not resonate with Ayla's generation AT ALL.
On Thursday we learned Ayla had been placed in a class with none of her best friends but with the two children she has had the most conflict with over the years. I know some parents think that children need to learn to deal with this sort of difficulty in life, and those parents are right. But I am one of those that thinks, why not prevent what bumps I can, life has enough challenges as it is. And I'm right too, you know? Neither Noah nor I are good at rocking the boat. We didn't want to call the school and ask for special treatment. I got Ayla into the car. "How big of a deal is this situation with your friends?" I asked. "A big deal, a small deal, a medium deal?"
"It's fine, it's not a big deal," Ayla said. "I'll still see them at recess and before school and stuff."
But she was holding back tears.
"Okay," I said. "And are those your real feelings, or is this you not wanting to hurt someone's feelings by switching?"
"The feelings," she said.
So I screwed up my courage and called the new principal and told her the truth. That we moved here from Colorado and it's been hard enough to make friends. That it's Ayla's last year of elementary school and I want her to have a good year surrounded by her pals. I understand that some might say these issues are trivial, but they are not trivial to me. I don't understand why we expect children to put up with things that we ourselves would not put up with. Anyway. The principal agreed to switch Ayla to a different class and Ayla and I fist bumped. I felt like a hero.
By some miracle last night they were both asleep by 9:15. These two have been staying up til midnight and it was just Thursday that Ayla slept in until almost noon. We drove them through McDonald's for ice cream because there's no Dairy Queen here, that is just the town I live in. I hate this town. After milkshakes we sang to them and put them to bed. I had cleaned both their rooms for them because I wanted them to feel orderly and cozy for the start of the year. When everything is chaos it helps to have a clean house. I even cleaned out the bottom of the pantry where there were a million shoes and plastic bags and two spiders and a moth infestation. Harry Potter could be living there basically. I watched them sleep, of course. I remembered thinking, when Ayla started 3rd grade, that we still had three full years until middle school and surely I would feel that time. Those three years would pass with the measured pace we expect three years to pass with. Now here we are, time is unreal. Mothers get this in our bones and yet we rage against it. Ayla's last year at BES and Indy right behind her. God help me.
This morning we all had bags under our eyes but spirits were generally high. Ayla shrugged on her white back pack decorated with the sharpie-drawn youtube logo and ihascupquake and Nirvana symbols. Ayla is into Nirvana. She is indulging her quirks with a trueness to herself that I admire fiercely. Indy overnight turned into a sort of brightly clawed kitten with jeweled teeth. She has presence. She is in herself and aware of herself like a starlet in a fashion spread.
God help me.
Noah took them to Waffle House (HATE TOWN) and then we dropped them at school, where at the last minute Indy said "Do you guys HAVE to walk us in?" all fake-casual, and we said ". . . no!" Me also feigning casual and so off they went, into the wilds, on their own. Then I took a drive up through the forest, it was misty and it had presence, aware of itself and the feats it is about to preform, getting ready just any minute now to magic all that green to yellow and gold, but not yet, not yet, and I thought everything is always coming, but not yet. Not yet.
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
On the first day of August, we went camping. We have not camped as a family since we moved here. I don't know why. But sometime last autumn Ayla came to me crying and said she was upset because we never go camping anymore. She has a flair for the dramatic but also for telling truths. She is a Libra and a Hufflepuff. But of course I don't believe in any of all that.
August sometimes gets a bad rap, but its one of my favorite months. August is when the light changes. One warm day in August you will be sitting in your car, it will be late afternoon, the light will go peach-colored and a breeze will blow in. On the underside of this breeze there will be a chill, and you will know that fall is going to come. Your seven-year-old daughter will turn to you and say, "It feels like everything good is about to happen". August is the month of stone fruit and school supplies. It's the month Indy was born. One day in August I had barely slept all night and was driven from my bed at four in the morning with labor pains. I thought this labor would take all day, run into the night, like my first. A mere seven hours later, I would be holding my Indy in my arms for the first time, her short little nose, her funny long legs. Ayla's first act as a human was to gaze at us as if she had known us for millions and millions of years. Indy's was to have a good cry. How could I not love August?
Camping here is different than camping in Colorado. We didn't grow up here, we don't know the good spots. We drove ten minutes down the street before turning onto a long dirt road lined with corn fields and horses. At the end of this rough road was a bend in the river, and we set up our tent on its banks. No alpine air, too many bugs. But the upside is this ancient river. Colored like coffee or the gold of some hound's eye, the girls undulating their sleek bodies in the shimmering light, little seals, legged mermaids. They are growing strong. Dive low, sputter up. Skip stones. Splash your sister. Ayla propped Indy up on her straight shoulders and said "I won't be able to do this much longer, you'll get too big." Ayla's legs impossibly long, Indy's eyes the brightest thing in the whole world.
Some people feel compelled to rush through August, squeezing in last minute summer before school starts up again. For me August is when summer slows down. You just have to surrender what you didn't get to. Like a woman of advanced age who doesn't hurry from place to place. Like the river growing wide around its slowest bend. For just a little while in August the world opens up. The swell of July is behind us, the smoke of September is ahead. I sat beneath leaves that danced with the light of the sun off the river. I felt a depression lift away. The old French Broad eventually flows into Tennessee. But just there, in that bend, it would hold us. My daughters closed their eyes and jumped in.
Saturday, June 6, 2015
This series of photographs reminded me of these two pictures of my daughters.
This is one of the more fascinating articles I've ever read.
Here is an old blog post by Tavi Gevinson that touched me.
I have been listening to the Longform podcast and the interviews with Cheryl Strayed and Tavi Gevinson got my juices flowing.
I would like to publicly request that Marc Maron interview more women. Hearing creative women talk about their stories and struggles is something I need as I try to find a place of peace between my two opposing desires to be a writer and to be a present mother for my children. These urges aren't in tension for every mother, but they are for me. I need to hear from women, women with children, women without children, married women, unmarried women. In the newest Mad Max, there is a moment when the warriors Furiosa and Max grip hands and I cried in the theater at the symbolism of that image. I dream of a time when women and men can work together in perfect union, but we can't get there without many more representations of the feminine myths, more stories about what it is to be female. I need thousands of them.
Dear Marc Maron: Amy Schumer, Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, Kaitlin Olson, Jessica Walter.
Speaking of the myths about the female experience, I hungrily devoured The Wild Oats Project by Robin Rinaldi and Spinster by Kate Bolick.
June in North Carolina has been tremendously green, as if the color were alive, as if I lived inside a velvety woodland painting. One morning I opened my eyes and looked out the window at the exact moment the sun was refracting explosively off the leaves and in my sleep state I felt the color shoot through me, a photosynthetic infusion, the breath of the forest, the substance of life.
Friday, April 24, 2015
Have you been waiting to buy Angel Food on a payday that never comes? Do you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, afraid of becoming a smoker clown (a clown that smokes)? Do your friends keep telling you to buy Angel Food and you're like, a book made of cake? Where do I get one immediately? You're in luck! Angel Food is free today as an ebook. Just a few more hours to download yours. Get it here.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
My heart may still be in Paris but my body is in Atlanta. Getting ready to catch a flight to Denver with my two girls. Minus my guy. I really wish he was coming. Not just so he could carry that enormous heavy bag that we ended up throwing into a wheelchair. Other reasons, too.
The spring in Brevard has been moody. Bright purple flowers against a dark gray sky. New green leaves shot through with strange light. I have been nursing myself off Paris with too many croissants from the local bakery. And lemon tarts. For a few days there it was touch and go. For a few days, I was like: I published my book. I went to Paris. I came back from Paris. Now what the hell am I supposed to do?
Then April started and I became able to feel optimistic again. I saw this tweet the other day and said YES. I think much about this idea of choosing happiness and a great portion of the time I think it is bullshit. I think it's available to certain DNA, but not to all. You know? In the winter, I'm not capable of it.
But April comes and I feel good again.
Besides croissants, my other coping mechanism is pretending I live in Austin, Texas. I know my moods are exhausting. My changes of heart wear me out. But I'm maybe a bit obsessed with this yogi Adriene. I dream of hot sun and hot weather and funky towns. Let's just say it: I dream of having green drinks delivered to my door. I dream of Mexican blankets and succulents. Lime popsicles and music festivals. You know? I DON'T KNOW. I just have a crush on Adriene. And Austin. Then I was snooping around on Airbnb and found this:
I mean, if I have an aesthetic, this is it.
So when I go to work and the stalker man comes in and stares, or the good old boy patornizingly tells me to smile, or the rude man asks overly personal questions trying to figure out if my beliefs are Christian like his, I just pretend I am living in Austin. With Adriene and this famous guy I love. Maybe it's crazy, but it works. IT IS WORKING FOR ME. Leave me alone, let me have it.
Do you know I wasn't harassed one single time during my two weeks in Paris, but at my job I am harassed daily? I'm not going to be able to stop talking about this. Is it the fact that I'm almost 34? I have a shorter fuse for certain ills. Don't tread on me, I'm 34. Maybe? It's a patronizing harrassment most of the time. Which is more insidious, harder to take head-on. I'm 33 but I'm almost 34.
(I ask myself, "where should I aim to travel to next?" but all I really want is Paris.)
In Denver we're going to go to the zoo and eat some stuff. I don't know. Asheville has a Chipotle now* so I don't really need to fly to Denver anymore. Indy was fed Subway an hour ago but she's sitting next to me huffing. So I have to go buy her a $34 airport burger now.
With love from Sunny Austin,
Update: The Atlanta airport has a Chipotle. So.
Sunday, April 5, 2015
Painted chocolate at Jacques Genin, my favorite chocolatier
A patisserie in the 3rd.
The renowned Jewish bakery in the Marais where I
didn't know what to order and managed to walk out
with a very good, but very American, brownie.
Pain de Sucre on Rue Rambuteau in the 3rd
Pain de Sucre. I wish I'd ordered something other than macarons.
Turns out I don't really care for them.
*not chocolate, probably. In the 3rd.
File under "things one must do when in Paris" even though
it's touristy and dumb.
Georges Larnicol in Saint Germain des Pres. I took home
two kouignettes, which were, like macarons, too sweet for me.
Georges Larnicol. That is all chocolate.
Hard to see past the reflections of this gorgeous
chocolatier in the 7th, near the Eiffel tower.
The outside of the famous Printemps feels appropriate for an Easter round up.
Printemps again. Printemps means "spring".
The classic. Glad I went, for the experience. One thing I noticed in Paris
is that the sweets were usually less sweet--they were made with less
sugar, often served with little sugar packets on the side. I never used
the extra sugar. And I never felt sick after indulging in them the way
I do after the sweets I eat here.
A bakery in Montmarte, which may have been called The Two Windmills.
Tarte citron, which would turn out to be my favorite Paris treat.
Tarte Citron by Eric Kayser, this locaiton near the Musee D'Orsay.
The pastry tray at the Salon de Thè at Paris' Grand Mosquee.
Patrick Roger in Saint Germain.
Tarte aux Pommes from the famed Poilane, please ignore my thumb.
Walking around at night. I think this was Rue Vielle du Temple in the 4th.
Du Pain et des Idées, "Bread and Ideas", near my apartment
in the 10th. Some say it's the best bakery in Paris.
Chocolat chaud done just right at Patisserie Viennoise.
There were a few students working here, drinking this. It's not far
from the Sorbonne. Can you imagine
this being your study spot?
When Marie Antoinette came from Vienna, she brought her pastry chefs with her. The
French chefs of the time learned from them. So, at patisseries, there are the regular French
pastries, and then there are the Viennoise. Thanks Marie!
The outside of Patisserie Viennoise, where the above 3 photos
were taken, down a tiny little street in Saint Germain.
I found it thanks to a tip from David Lebovitz's
"The Sweet Life In Paris". I'm with him--it was probably
the best chocolat chaud I had in Paris.
Henri LeRoux, across the street from the Jardin du Luxembourg. It's worth
mentioning that at this and every other high end chocolatier I stepped into,
I received very warm and helpful service. At places like Jacques Genin,
where the chocolates are displayed like expensive jewelry, I expected
the atmosphere to be snobby. It wasn't--the one exception being Ladurée.)
It was also completely normal to buy just four or five pieces. Or even one.
No pressure to spring for the 120 euro box.
Cafe Suedois, or Swedish, a bright spot where I spent a
cold and rainy afternoon.
My final Parisian indulgence was at Pierre Herme. I happened to pass by it and
had to go in, even though I was over the whole macaron thing by then. I'm
glad I did, for the beauty of the sweets alone. My picture does no justice. They
were gorgeous little works of art. I couldn't help but exclaiming "Tres jolie!"
Which I thought meant "very pretty!" but doesn't, really, I think. The French
seemed more likely to use "beau" when remarking on beauty. "Trop beau!"
I selected Caramel au Beurre Salé (of course).
The purple is "Envie"--vanilla, violet, and cassis.
Top right is Olive Oil and Mandarin,
and finally yogurt and grapefruit, which I ordered
on accident, but there you go. These were the best
macarons I had in Paris.
Today the girls are eating all their Hershey eggs and Cadbury cream eggs, which have their place in the canon, of course. But I'm happy to say that later this evening, I will slip into my room and have a little Jacques Genin that I tucked away into a drawer, waiting for me, all the way from Paris.