This post was originally published on February 11th, 2011.
"Knock knock," said Ayla.
"Who's there?" said I.
Well that's just good comedy, I thought to myself. The best part was her delivery--clearly that was the punchline. Because if you were, say, shopping for Shake Weights and found yourself suddenly interrupted by diarrhea, would you take the time to say "interrupting diarrhea who?"
It had been a long day. I had walked into Michael's thinking it would be 'easy' and, I don't know, 'cute', to pick up supplies and have the girls make their own Valentine's. I have never been so wrong in my life. We took one step into the store that will eternally smell of fake flowers and wicker and I immediately started crying. Indy was all like "What's wrong?" and "don't cry, mommy", and I told her to stop being such a little brown-noser and give mommy a minute to recover from massive stamp and sticker over-stimulation. Panting, I called my sister. In reassuring tones she navigated me through the meelee like this was wartime Saigon and she was on her third tour. She knew the natives, she spoke the language. "Card stock and construction paper are basically the same things," she said, calmly enough to almost make me believe everything was going to be all right, despite all evidence to the contrary. "But it all has flowers on it," I sobbed. "And storks, and soccer balls. Oh God I am too young to die!"
"You are not in enemy territory," she said firmly. "That is just the scrapbooking section."
After that I dragged my weary soldier to Target because Michael's is too upscale for people like me, who don't wish to make our own stickers out of German glitter glue and the blood of the Viet Cong. She is four, and she was tired, so naturally she went for the only option available to her: stamping her foot, screaming, and making the bloody purple monsters dance to their eerie funeral dirge five thousand times. Oh baby you . . . got what I neeeeeeed. I think she must have picked up something about torture methods during our time in the war zone.
We made it out of Target with, I swear to God, two cans of chopped clams, one box of stamps without an ink pad, two cute bags with owls on them that I have little to no use for, and absolutely none of the things for which we had come. We called it a wash. Went to get Ayla.
Went to King Soopers.
I almost made it alive through the store at rush hour. Got to the check out. The kindly gentleman rang up my goods while I magnanimously distributed quarters and pennies to my own little waifs to entertain them during the wait.
"Mom," Ayla whines. "I have to go potty."
"You're gonna have to wait just a minute. We're almost done."
"Mom," she starts to cry. "I have to go POTTY."
And then she grabs her bottom.
"We're going to have an accident!!" Poor, poor me screams to the kindly checker. I grab my daughter and friends, I ran like a bat out of hell. My daughter in my arms, a mad dash for the bathroom on the opposite end of the store. "Will you watch my daughter!" I cry over my shoulder to the checker, pointing to my little cowgirl Indy--wearing her pink cowgirl boots, grinning like an idiot, obliviously enjoying her penny pony ride like no one has ever enjoyed that ride before. My wallet hit the floor, coins flew, people stared. I'm pretty sure at one point an old woman pushing a baby carriage pulled out of my way in the slickest nick of time. I elbowed and leapt and beat people back the way my teenage self once did trying to get front row seating at an O-Town concert.
The women's room is closed.
"Hello!" I yell, and dash into the men's.
Empty. Good things do happen.
Ayla is flustered. Teary. Probably a little embarrassed and a lot terrified. I situate her so she can see to her business. She's drawing in quick little breaths, chewing her bottom lip. I take a deep breath. She looks like she might cry.
Yesterday I sat at Starbucks so long the baristas offered me free sustenance. "We made a mistake, but you look like you could use this," said the young man singled out to approach me. He set a passion tea on my table and backed away slowly, like the wrong move might make me cry, off with his head. I wondered how I must look, pale skin, glazed wonder in my eyes. The laptop zombies, they drive me crazy. Mainly when when I can't find a place to sit because of them. But yesterday, I was one.
Maybe I will go back to school and be an English professor, I said to myself the other day. It was raining in L.A. but it was almost 80 here, making mockery of all my dreams. I was sitting in my backyard and reading a book about just that, about an English professor, about doctorates and discussions of love. That did it to me, that always does. I want bao and green tea ice cream, I'll say to Mr. V, and Mr. V knows I've been reading Lisa See.
So maybe I will do this instead, I said to the universe. She just smiled back. Go ahead and try, she said. I won't stop you.
But the truth we knew was this. I am not an English professor, or a magazine editor, or a 911 operator or any of the other occupations I entertain on warm spring days. I'm not a blogger either, something I realized when reading this post by you know who, my favorite blogger, who realizes she is not a writer of books, not now anyway. I am not a blogger, it is not my calling, it was a relief to recognize it.
Which does not mean I am going to quit blogging. But I had neglected my work, momentarily. Stopped editing, stopped writing, and so this week I've gone back to it, like I hope I always will. I am telling stories. I am struck by Ayla, who is seven. My mind recites the only times table it ever memorized: Seven, fourteen, twenty-one. I feel overwhelmed some days, driving from the grocery store, sitting at Starbucks and frightening the baristas, with happiness. There were times in my twenties when I was so unhappy, so restless, such a stranger in my life. 7, 14, 21, Ayla marches on and so do I, but I am so lucky, my sun-dappled life a thing of dreams, I am doing what I want, what I feel I am meant to do and some days I feel I'm getting younger. The days pass maybe not in straight lines but in circles, or moons, regressing, fulfilling, full bloom. My soul grows lighter.
I realized I might be in a bad way today when I found myself standing at the kitchen counter in my underwear eating cookies out of the package at 2:30 on a Tuesday afternoon.
I know most times I sound like Liz Lemon's real-life counterpart. In my defense, I was in my underwear because I'd just spilled coffee rather fantastically all over my laptop, my iPhone, and a brand new library book. I'm not an idiot, I didn't save the book first, and so the computer and iPhone turned out ok. The new book is ruined. I'm a tool. What other option did I have but to strip to my short clothes and eat chewy chocolate chips from the bag? It was a blessing, actually. Rarely are one's options in life so desperately clear.
The last time I remember feeling good was Sunday night. We were having drinks and delicious dinner with some parents of Ayla's classmates. Oblivious to the time change, I'd slept in that day until eleven. I had korma and naan and far too much wine. My cheeks were hot, my life was good. Then Monday came, daylight savings sucked my life force away, and everything since has been a blur. I'm in a spring haze. I feel pregnant with bees and a new book, and boy do I act like it. I wake slow-minded in golden afternoon light after writing in the hours around dawn. I pad bovine around the house, my energies all exerted from the magic of bringing into existence what did not exist before. I have pregnancy dreams, except now it's--Oh no, I've killed the bees! Or, oh no, my queen is deformed and I don't love her the way I feel I should! Or, oh no, Ryan Gosling is trying to kill me with a grenade launcher! Hey girl, I bet that's not what you meant when you asked me to make you scream. You see how deeply I'm disturbed. Our bodies and subconscious minds do work our waking brains cannot comprehend. This is how life appears out of the ether.
In a bad way: Last week I tried to explain to Noah about The Family Fang, about the two siblings who each suffer a career mishap and find themselves back with mom and dad. The brother, Buster, repeats often to himself that he is "in a bad way". We are in a bad way. As usual, I was unable to articulate in spoken word just why I loved that phrase the way Buster used it. Buster recognizes he is not his best self without any of the usual panic or flailing, the desperation to figure out why and to right himself again. I am in a bad way, states Buster, and then he just allows himself to be. He eats lunch with his sister and watches old movies on the couch. Nothing is consciously attempted to be fixed, and yet somehow at the end, everything is.
It's not that I'm actually in a bad way. The spilled coffee was a low point, but no. Spring haze, my official diagnosis. I like this dreamy phase. Half here, like new light. Golden green bursting in our shriveled winter hearts. Who knew we were capable of such bounty? It's beautiful, what we do. However you do it. Knit, write, paint, imagine, birth, boil, dream. Forgive me, I am sentimental. I believe we are all creators. I believe this is why we are here.
From National Geographic: A woman is riding between the railway carriages of a local train heading north from Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital. Her luggage is tucked under the carriage in front of her. It is the month of Ramadan, a fast that culminates in Eid-ul-Fitr, a three-day celebration. Tens of thousands of people leave the city to go to their home village and celebrate with their families. Trains are packed and many who fail to get tickets before they sell out or can’t afford buying them at the black market ride on the roof of the train or, like this woman, finds a quiet spot between the carriages.
Until I was nearly eleven, I was sent to St. John's Lutheran church and school in Denver. The sanctuary had a high vaulted ceiling speckled with lights like stars which I would lay back and count during sermons. The narthex included a living-room sized coat closet, and I recall hiding among the coats, the furs soft against my face, and quiet, and whispering Narnia. Secret doors opened to a hidden passageway, stone-walled and spiraled, exactly like in a castle. There was a basement full of costumes and props, old Renaissance gowns and fake swords, and in the balcony was a marvelous pipe organ, hundreds of pipes arranged descending by height, all glittering and imposing and pleasing to my young eye, which liked order and magic and shine.
My classmates and I often passed between the school and the church, which were connected by a corridor. On the wall of the hallway we traveled was a sculpture, which was mysterious and frightening and commanded my attention every time I passed it. It was a simple wooden cross, with hundreds of nails pounded in to different degrees, so that the surface was not smooth but jagged. It looked like by running your hand across it, you could catch your skin and bleed.
The most arresting feature, however, was the at the top. Around the place where the head should have been, silver iron contorted into the shape of a headscarf. The scarf enshrouded not a face, but a pool of black. Many years later, when I would see the Lord of The Rings movie, the ring wraiths would look startlingly familiar to me and it would take me a moment to figure out why: their voided faces looked almost exactly like the sculpture.
Not long ago, my dad told me that this particular sculpture was the focus of some controversy among the church members. An unintended result, I'm sure, but for years, this strange black void with the hood obscuring its face was what I pictured when people said the word God.
I am writing at home today. I drove to Starbucks, but my unwanted companion was there. I know his car, noted it so I could avoid going in when he's there. He is there almost every day. He sits alone for hours and watches people, occasionally attempting to strike up conversation. He doesn't read. He sets a large digital clock on the table, it has the temperature displayed on it, and he watches that. He is a misfit. I know this sad. Sometimes I feel I ought to indulge him, make conversation back. Occasionally I have. I feel I should develop compassion for this man. The sight of his car makes me angry. He makes me feel self-conscious, noted. When the morning rush clears, he and I are there alone. I prefer anonymity. I wish to be unknown.
He makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes I feel him watching me.
I collect images of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I have her on rings, necklaces, pink candles from Wal-Mart. I love the looks of her. Her brown face, her blue or green robe with all its glittering stars. For me she represents not a human woman, but a female face of divinity. I love that she is likely an incarnation of the Corn Mother, or the Aztec Tonantzin, which speaks to the fact that across the ages, nearly every culture has recognized a divine presence and has bestowed upon one thing many names. As I got older, I chose to stop believing some of the things I'd been taught and one of the things I abandoned was the idea of an exclusively male god. I choose to believe in feminine images of the divine, and I love seeing her as depicted in the images of Guadalupe: infinitely loving, deeply compassionate, present in the earth and stars, maternal and divine.
**I was inspired this week by this post by Elizabeth at the lovely a moon, worn as if it had been a shell, on Our Lady of the Dry Tree**
I get very emotional in spring, which leads me to conclude that, basically, I am very emotional.
But Spring Me is much better than Winter Me, who is existential and occasionally morose. Winter Me belongs in a Parisian cafe, wearing a beret, smoking a cigarette and churlishly lowering my heavily-lined eyes before the camera. (Why is there always a camera on me in my fantasies? Probably because I was brought up by circus people theater people. See? If you try hard enough, you can blame your parents for EVERYTHING.)
Spring Me either belongs in an elaborate musical number, with parasols and chiffon, or in an asylum.
Spring Me (Spring I?) is apt to do things like drive to the grocery store, take one look around the parking lot, and steer two delighted children to the ice cream store instead. Spring Me (can we call her Iris?) also tends to get teary over the fact that a) buckwheat is good for your garden soil and that b) the bees love the buckwheat and c) the bees also help the gardens, so therefore d) Oh my god, Mr. V, do you see, it's the circle of life! It's so beautiful-hul-hul! (Disclaimer: the above statements should not be taken as confirmation that I did, in fact, weep those words to Mr. V over coffee and toast with honey).
Oh, shut up Iris.
Just take a look.
What we did:
I cleaned their rooms for them, which lead to this magic moment:
A not-great picture of my beautiful top bar hive, made by a man in Boulder. The bees will draw their comb down from those top bars. The entrance is at the bottom. It's very small.
What we ate: (Yup, again.)
What we watched: A South Korean film directed by Joon-Ho Bong. It's won a ton of awards. It's streaming on Netflix. It was pretty amazing.
What I read: My introduction to Jeanette Winterson. I've only just started it. I reserve judgement.
Signing out with this picture of Indy, who cut the tops and tips off old stockings to make arm warmers for Dr. Seuss Day, and felt all awesome about it:
At night I lie awake and think of the bees. I see them in my brain, in my belly, in my heart. Scurrying around and working their magic, gathering tiny bits of things we can't see, and together, working them over time into miraculous honey. I feel I am pregnant with bees. Like anyone on a new endeavor,a couple awaiting a baby, an artist collecting new inspiration, I am softer. Vulnerable in sweet places. I am brought easily to tears.
In November, I began to dream of the bees because they felt like a thing that could be done. Challenging, yes, but not an endeavor that relied on elusive approval. I was so frustrated, in November. So sure that all my work was for naught. I was made crazy by the nature of the publishing industry--that one may produce work, may even produce very good work for years and years, but all of that matters for nothing if you can't charm an agent. If you don't bewitch a publisher. If they don't look at you and see dollar signs, your work is rated not worthy.
I was drawn to the bees because they don't rate one's worth.
They don't question why, these girls. They emerge from their cells and minutes after their birth, get to work. They know exactly what to do, they never question their own instincts and in obeying them, accomplish marvelous feats. They labor tirelessly, these summer bees who will live just four weeks or so. They produce one-twelfth of one teaspoon of honey, and eventually they fly away to die. All of this to ensure the survival of future generations that they will never see.
I knew I had to help the bees. I knew somehow they would heal me.
And now this: after deciding to keep the bees, I realized that I could not place my happiness is other people's hands.
Nor stand around, hoping for approval. Toss my hair at agents, do my dance for publishers, no thank you. It made me miserable. It negated all the joy that came from the writing itself.
The delight at the prospect of keeping the bees showed me the delight in the possibility of self-publishing my book.
And so, I decided to do just that.
Because what matters is not approval, or attention, or money, or fame, but creating something and sharing it with others. What matters is connection.
Making this decision has set me free. I don't spend my days worrying what other people think. I let go of my ridiculous need to be the best at something, to prove myself to others. I sit down and write and it is what it was meant to be: a interaction between myself and a collective unconscious, a divine creator, a celebration of pure joy.
(You know, when writing goes well it goes very, very well and when it goes badly, we watch Oprah).
Life is sweet. The bees taught me this.
All I taste is honey.
I have so many links to share today. Please take what you like and leave what you don't.
4) This excerpt from Dan Savage on This American Life really moved me this week. In it, Dan describes being raised by his very Catholic mother, and his complex relationship with the church as an adult. The talk is very funny, and very touching. It was an excellent piece. (And it includes a good (and good natured)Lutheran joke, for all my Lutheran readers)
5) I am so excited about Miss Representation, a film that has finally taken all the frustrations with media representations of girls and women that I tend to grow inarticulate and frustrated over, and worked them eloquently into a movie that looks both educating and change-inspiring.