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After discovering that my sister in Iowa HAS BEEN BLOGGING WITHOUT ME (i.e., resurrecting her blog and posting frequently all of a sudden without telling me—or at least without reminding me often enough), I have decided to quit with all the angst that blogging has become fraught with, for me, over the past year. During which I have received several intense and negative messages about individual posts. It put me off blogging, partly because I barely had time to do it in the first place, but mostly—if I’m honest—and I am—because I’m a people-pleaser and want people to like me and find it difficult when they don’t. But growing up includes finding one’s way and learning not to worry much about other people’s opinions about one’s way. So: I’m beginning. I will blog, like I did in the beginning (my first blog was created while away from friends & fam at college, in 2004): I will blog to relate personal thoughts and events to faraway friends & fam.

Social media makes things feel so complicated—so being off facebook but still blogging feels like a return to a more natural way of communicating. I am still on instagram, because I couldn’t quit social media cold-turkey, but the day may come when I quit it, too. If I do you will certainly read about it here.

A significant thought: being at the brink of the grave, as I am, at 31.75, and with the amount of “free time” that being a working mother has robbed me of, I have been recently reminded that I should make a list of things I want. A friend told me she had written such a list, and proceeded to read me the best and most inspiring list; it had things she wanted out of her career, concrete things she wanted to do, larger-scale things she wanted to own/create, and some desires about her creative life. I was amazed that she could make such a thoughtful list after just giving birth to her first baby only a few weeks before—but of course, it’s not that strange. Becoming a mother, and realizing how stapled-down your actual body is to the ground of the world, is sobering. I wasn’t that emotionally healthy at 2 months out, postpartum: I was reading facebook comments sections.

So she said I should write one for myself. And after thinking about it for a couple of weeks, I finally wrote one. I’ll combine it in some way with this blog’s “short-term goals” and long-term goals” pages, but it’s already 2 minutes past my bedtime, and I haven’t even finished the ice cream that’s melting in a bowl beside me. Here is my list:

  • Publish more poems in litmags (original said “publish poems in litmags” but I had to insert “more” so you will know I’m already famous published writer-type person
  • Write a postpartum essay collection
  • Find a writing group
  • Make my house beautiful
    • Renovate dismal kitchen
    • Figure out confusing curtain situation
    • Area rug for living-room
    • Finish painting house
  • Get/rent a writing studio
  • Establish incredible herb/flower gardens (well on my way tbh)
  • Get comfortable with high-pressure canning
  • Create small seed library for self
  • Create tiny improv quilts that are beautiful
  • Establish home yoga practice and/or take regular classes
  • Get nice croquet set
  • Get nice badminton set (fill in holes in lawn concurrently)
  • Turn out low-key book comments (too lazy to write “reviews” at moment) on the regular
  • Write a kids’ book for Carla to illustrate
  • Build pergola
  • Build tiny greenhouse
  • Get a woodstove
  • Trip to Vienna and/or Scotland
  • Host annual friendsgiving or other fall/winter feast
  • Become independent Mary-Poppins-type woman who don’t need no man, but with heart of gold and committed (unlike Poppins who left family in a cloud)
  • Fix up the shed as a chicken coop
  • Butcher or trade roosters

So that’s what I came up with a while back—would really like to expand on this list and make some additions about spiritual life and marriage and daughter and reading. Will soon.

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1. A walk in the morning
2. Jokes about coffee, about morning crabbiness, it all flies over my head
3. Waiting for some good news
4. Trying to imagine what the next stroke of good fortune will be, walking alone in morning sunlight, imagining good fortune.
5. For one thing, lying next to my beloved in bed, his heat sleeping by me
6. Like a child wants to sleep with her mother, touching her arm with her small hand, like this I sleep with my knee at my beloved’s thigh, my foot curling into the shadow of his living.
7. May we never outgrow our small bed, this good, good fortune.
8. And the rate at which the year turns over? So slowly, as if in sleep?
9. Time moves at a constant rate—our perceptions are what change
10. For one thing, the world sets the lonely soul in its center, its surface a blur of color, crashing sound
11. Like a child wants to rest underneath the warm unintelligible cloud of adult conversation hanging in the living room, like this I fall away from everyone I know
12. For another thing, I think that the ocean is timeless, that it is silent and dim, that great peaceful whales move through it with the grace of slo-mo
13. I imagine my next stroke of good fortune will be a trip to a deserted beach, where I will watch the ocean’s surface for five hours every day
14. Seagulls, the lonely souls on the surface of the world, the center of the ocean a blur of color and light, its many hums and whistles sounding, though we can’t hear

A month ago, we decided not to get a car loan for this new car we were going to buy, and just spend more savings than we wanted to to avoid paying interest. Since we could. This week, we found out both head gaskets are leaking, a $2500 problem. I had taken it in because the check engine light was on, and there was a sizeable mess of problems that got fixed for free, because it was under some kind of campaign or warranty … I have enormous car anxieties, always expecting cars to die or need unaffordable repairs, and was in the middle of meadows of golden relief (about not having to pay for the new catalytic converter or to have the ECM reprogrammed) when I got the news about the head gaskets.

Since I’m trying to limp along till March 1 (when my farm job resumes) without a real job (still selling stuff on Etsy), we spent a day and a half freaking out. Today, I took the car to the post office and it stalled out on me, and the check engine light came back on.

Why does this kind of thing make me cry? Why does it make me feel like the ceiling of heaven is caving in, like I’m this small muskrat being washed out of its home by raging spring floods? Why am I an orphan, suddenly, why have I suddenly forgotten how to swim?

And I put on Feist while I work on a journal, and “I Feel it All” comes on. This song was the reason I bought this album years ago. When I first heard it, it was about how empowering it could be to feel the world, to not be afraid to dive into the world with my eyes, mouth, arms open. Now I hear it differently.

It’s a hopeful song, with a driving beat and a piano, and at some point she says, “I know more than I knew before,” and then “I’ll be the one who’ll break my heart, I’ll end it though you started it.” Suddenly I know this is true, that now this song is about how empowering it is to acknowledge my failures and difficulties … and then let them go, move away, move on, move forward. Fear of the future seems to descend on me like a mist, but that paralysis is—for me—something I can stand up inside, and move away from. Something I can hear everyone say but not believe it, or not believe I can do it, till a switch flips, or a distant bell rings, and then I understand.

Chloe Leavers’ music usually does this, blowing away that mist, but what a surprise to find it on a Feist cd.

It’s so dumb that all this is about a car. But maybe it’s not. This has been a rough year. While I was writing my thesis and studying for my oral exam, my sister’s husband committed suicide and my husband was diagnosed with a chronic disease. Shit happens, and sometimes a year can hold a horrible amount of it. But I need something, I need courage. I need to say something about courage, so I will find it. God shows up in moments like these, and then you realize that no moment lacked God, not even yesterday, not even this long, long year.

How do you make a timeful life? How do you honor time, make more time, so you can let yourself spend evenings silently with books or quilting and without anxiety, a residual sense of urgency and light mists of guilt, that you’re not doing something else that you should do, or should have done?

People in the “Subaru lounge” at Grayson Subaru are talking and laughing like friends, even though they just met (here) 20 minutes ago. “I’m a Florida baby. Yeah I was born and raised in south Florida.”

A man in a black puffy coat has dropped off his car and is walking out the door holding an enormous Ziploc bag of chocolate chip cookies. Who are those lucky co-workers.

I think this is why I don’t usually mind waiting on my car at the shop, or sitting in waiting rooms at hospitals or clinics or standing in queues: here is a small dark envelope of time. Here is a gift of time, which I’m not supposed to be “using” for anything. So I can be very still, hear all the sounds, see the movements of everything happening around me, open my body like a hand, let things fall in, spill over. I’m alive in this world.

 

 

It’s a cold Friday morning, and I’m feeling buoyant. Mornings are the best, for me: nothing has really happened yet, except lovely prescient things like coffee, slippers, leggings, early sunlight, and the muffled sounds of cars, cardinals. Anything could happen. I imagine all the great things, like posting another baby book in my Etsy shop, finalizing the new baby book template, printing a bunch off at FedEx Express. Making mushroom & onion & radiccio pizza (you can do that, right?) tonight, rolling on into the weekend. Tomorrow I get to take a preg test, also, which is helping inspire this sense of prescience.

When Marshall and I visited with my bosses at the farm, just before Christmas, we talked about family holiday traditions & Christmas chaos & how we’re all turning into hermits. I wished that we lived just across the way, and could bundle up after we ate all the cookies and said all that needed to be said and just walk home. Across a dark field, to a house with glowing windows. Beating our boots on the porch, hanging up our jackets, glad to have loved neighbors. Which brings me to wishes.

On our way out the door, Lalo told us not to forget about our wishes. Turns out, it’s a tradition in parts of Mexico to come up with twelve wishes for the new year—a pretty interesting difference from the American “New Year’s resolutions.” Marshall and I talked about it on the way home that night … I never do the resolutions thing on New Year’s, maybe because I can’t get motivated to set & accomplish goals by something as arbitrary and artificial as the first day of a new year. In my [inner] world, time revolves, it circles: any day of the year is a point on a upward spiral, and January 1st is as much a part of last week as it is of the new year.

But wishes, one wish for every month of the coming year. That’s different. More passive than a goal, I guess, and maybe less effectual? But what does a goal do, that it should do it effectively? Aren’t we the ones who translate thought into action, whatever form the thought takes? What does a goal do that a wish couldn’t also do? Both are inspirational in essence. Both are terribly (horribly) optimistic, too, because we all set goals that are unreachable, just as we wish impossible wishes—our lives aren’t often under our control, and we often overestimate ourselves. Goals probably make us feel like we’re in complete control of our lives, which may be one reason we tend to like them so much. (Clearly I still find goals useful, though, as I have dedicated two pages on my blog to them.) On the other hand, I think a wish can be a way to reject reality, yes, definitely, but making wishes for a new year isn’t rejecting “the reality of the new year”—the new year doesn’t yet have a reality. In this way, a wish for the future is like a prayer.

I decided that meeting a new year with wishes instead of goals is beautiful. Instead of passing judgment on my life as inadequate & too small (which it totally is), I’m casting the desires I have for my life out into the deep waters of the sea ahead. (Was it Nancy Reagan who said, “Cast your bread on the waters and it will return to you after many days a ham sandwich”?) Wishing can’t accomplish anything, except renewing my desires, reminding me of their existence. Which I need. Especially in times of survival, which this year has kinda been.

Moving through survival means quieting your desires so you can sleep, so you can eat, so you can sit very still and watch tv and the birds and the snow and slowly build your inner dwelling back into a habitable place. Making a nest in the ruins, or re-building the ruins. For me, moving beyond survival means dropping small desires down an inner well again, listening to the knocking echoes they make, letting them embolden me.

1. Get published;
2. Buy a house;
3. Keep working at Care of the Earth Community Farm;
4. Have my own garden again;
5. Get pregnant;
6. See Old North Abbey thrive again;
7. See my brother thrive;
8. See my sister thrive;
9. See yet another of my sisters thrive;
10. See Marshall get a job that he loves;
11. Start singing again;
12. Get a piano.

Yours?

1. Was reminded, recently, that I was supposed to send my manuscript off before the end of the year, so I did that today. It makes me so proud of things I’ve slogged through: school, long months of difficulties, griefs, and intermittent sun. More school. Thesis & thesis defense. I work hard to make things, and I need to.

2. Marshall and I were saddened by the lack of snow in Knoxville, so we got in the new Forester and drove up to Max Patch on Christmas Eve. It was so white. Snow was on the ground, and mist had crystallized on the trees and grasses, making everything, everything white. Clear white creaking branches against a dimmer white sky, gray-white ground sloping upward into low-hanging white clouds. Inadequate clothes (this happens so often). Violent shivering. Something in us opening so wide.

3. Ten months after Marshall’s Meniere’s diagnosis, we’re both wishing that we could move a little more quickly through the stages in front of us. And at the same time, we’re not. Life, so slow, and then—suddenly—so fast. I’m ok with the pace of our life, I think. If we have to move slowly—if we absolutely indeed must—then I want to pay attention.

4. I wish we’d been invited to a Christmas party instead of a New Year’s Eve party. At Christmas parties, you can wear slouchy knits and talk quietly and blend into the scenery when you need to … but New Year’s Eve parties are for glittering and dancing and popping out of the scenery. Since I don’t wear satin or sequins, I’m nonplussed. I don’t think the people throwing this party would want me to not come simply because I don’t have the required black, white, silver, or gold dress … but … purposeful (i.e., last-minute / urgent) dress shopping is such an awful thing.

5. We got so many great kitchen things for Christmas. Also a nice vacuum.

6. We gave our parents leather albums with long-overdue wedding photos in them, and I found myself wanting to do nothing but look at those photos. What a great day that was. The hand-hemmed napkins we made for the wedding potluck have finally made their way into a queen-sized “broken dishes” quilt, with navy backing. I’ve worked on it for about a year, now, and I only have to finish the edges. Then we’ll sleep underneath that beautiful day. (And also fight and cry and lie sleepless and laugh and touch and talk, have dreams and nightmares.) (Married life is no less varied than single life, surely.)

7. All I can think about is January, how arid it seems. What on earth is going to happen in 2014? It’s disconcerting to not know, at all.

 

Stripped wood fireplace used as a scratching-post

                for a previous tenant's cats, crown moulding hemming

          in large clear windows

                           looking out, looking out. Sun

             so cool in midwinter. Christmas tree

       tinder-dry, and I have no knowledge

                   of its woods, who it was before.


       I lie in my blue bed,

                    I emerge in the morning flushed

                           and full of love for my life

         in bookcases, windowsills, in the rooms

      beneath the attic,


                 where nothing makes me ashamed

                for the world I have made.


The wild ducks

          and geese, bullfrogs,

                        lichen, and snow.

November wasn’t the month I was supposed to get preg, apparently, which is sad, because I really wanted it to be. (My luteal phase–if I read my chart correctly–was 22 days long, which feels strange and dangerous, like something’s not quite right in there. But perhaps I worry for nothing.) But I have to keep remembering my friend M’s letter to me, in which she wrote about the 12 months she & her husband tried to conceive, how much she had to learn, and how full of grace and patience the whole letter is (and I am, when I read it). I make mental notes to myself in the mornings, sometimes, about how I have to respect & honor my body today, be patient with it, and let my life be what it wants to be.

Another friend, a lovely Japanese vocal performance major I became friends with in college, but lost touch with after she returned to Japan, recently sent me a fb friend request. After a flurry of excited what’s happened in your life in the past seven years??? I found out that she has a beautiful ridiculously gorgeous baby, and that she & her husband had tried for three years before she conceived. She said, of her daughter, “She knew we weren’t ready.” It struck me. I’m still resonating. She’d written about huge difficulties and griefs that had happened in her husband’s family (and bled deep into her & husband’s life) during those first two years of their marriage, and how their relationship needed so much maturing in those early days.  It made me think about Marshall and myself, how we’re not even a year past his diagnosis, yet, …..

… and it feels so much better, so much more loving and generous and full of grace, to say “She knows we aren’t ready” instead of “I guess there’s something wrong with me.” So I’ll keep that.

But this does mean that I’m gonna take December off, and have lots of caffeine and wine and have sex whenever we want. I got a bottle of Rioja last night, as a matter of fact, and am considering popping the top as soon as I’m done here. Pouring a cup, lying on the couch with pillow & quilt, reading (the obdurately long!) Pickwick Papers, looking at the glimmering cheery Christmas tree every ten minutes or so. Possibly having some cheese laced with jerk seasoning that I bought during a cheese craving last week. Ok I’m definitely doing that.

After that last post, in which I was sick and whiny, I ultimately got well and had the best birthday (last Saturday) in recent memory.  Today, cold, dry, and gray, I’ve run a few errands and then Mom took me to Taste of Thai for a birthday lunch, where I had masaman curry. Now, it’s teatime, and I’m so very snug in this little treehouse apartment.

Last weekend, Marshall and I got all Christmassy and hung our two strands of colored Christmas lights up around the living room and kitchen. Since we alternate who gets to pick the kind of lights that go on the Christmas tree each year (I like white lights, Marshall likes colored), and this is my year for lovely warm toasty white lights, I felt it would be ok to put the colored lights up around the wall/ceiling corner, as Marshall had eagerly suggested. So we put them up and watched Christmas Vacation, underneath blankets and the soft circus glow of rainbow twinkle lights. I love Christmas.

Turning 28 as a married person is a unique circumstance.  Last Friday, Megan, my boss at Care of the Earth Community Farm, made me a birthday cake, and Lalo sang Happy Birthday, holding up their little baby like he was singing, too.  Megan and I have written a few letters to each other, and she sent me home—my last work day of the year—with another.  It’s wonderful to find a friend.  After losing several friendships that were very dear to me, over the past ten years, I’ve become a little more realistic about how often you can find a good friend, and how easy it is to be one.  My friendship with Megan is blooming, and it’s one of the loveliest things that is happening in this season of my life. I came home that day, took a shower, made tea, lit candles, and read the letter. Heart expanding palpably. My birthday weekend had begun.

Saturday morning, Marshall treated me like a queen: made me fried matchstick potatoes (one of his many specialties) and french toast, and then we put on boots and coats and drove around in the cold blue day, antiquing. After a lovely lazy afternoon of kicking through piles of coffee mugs, records, drawer pulls, and copper tea kettles, we headed to Marshall’s brother’s house, where I was hugged and kissed by niece and nephew and thoroughly loved on by brother- and sister-in-law. We made sushi: California rolls, spicy tuna, dragon. So awesome. I said (to myself), To hell with TTC! and had an entirely beautifully delicious Celebrator doppelbock. And that Magpie’s chocolate raspberry cheesecake I mentioned? They got two, stuck a large “2” candle in one and eight little birthday candles in the other, and brought them to me, singing Happy Birthday and pouring me a flute of champagne.

It’s odd how much it matters to find out that I’m loved/appreciated. Or perhaps not odd. But it’s large, fills rooms, which is why I want to say it fills chambers, like the small chambers of the heart. It gives me stamina. I vacillate between not believing it, and believing it. Accepting compliments is stupid hard, these days. I want it to get easier. Anyway, I’m not sure if it’s more exciting to put a lid on this past year and all its traumas, or to open the door on the coming year, unknowable and vast.

 

There’s so much sun, this morning.  So much that I’m sitting on our second-storey balcony with my toast-plate and coffee cup on the railing, soaking it in.  Feels like my face might be turning gold. A few miles up Broadway, where we used to live, our neighborhood birds were mockingbirds, robins, and starlings, with a few cardinals, chickadees, wrens, and the odd towhee (and the very odd owl).  Here on Eleanor Street, it feels like all we have are robins.  Rather chubby birds, with an unmelodic & unimaginative call, who never get in fights.  Peckish pushovers.

.   .   .

On Saturday, I took a sweet almond croissant and a Java cappuccino with me on a walk from Ijam’s to the Will Skelton Greenway in South Knoxville.  Croissant eaten as I passed the rail line to Mead’s Quarry, cappuccino drunk just before I reached my favorite bench—past the sunflower fields, with a view of the old train bridge.  That place—one of my favorites places in this whole city—is somehow so solitary in spite of the random noisy walkers/runners, the nearby Island Home airport, distant (mysterious) machinery, the odd motorboat.  It’s what my soul needs.  The birds there—they come out if you can be still for ten minutes—are what it needs.

Below me at the riverbank, with a noisy chatter, perched a small kingfisher, white necktie, big black bill, and then it disappeared. To my left, in the riverbank thicket, trembled a tiny dun-colored flycatcher, and then it was gone.

What should I learn from them? That they appear, and then disappear? Astonishing in their presence, with their fragility, beauty, lingering like small fires in the memory?

I kept thinking, on my walk down there to the river, that I had awakened that morning without bearings. Had such a wonderful time with Casey the night before—now as much a sister to me as my blood-sisters—drank two sweet malty stouts and came home rejoicing and drunk.  Marshall had a candle lit, lights off, and was playing sad songs on the guitar, and after I listened for a while I became sad, too. I felt movements of soul—I wanted to be alive, awake, feeling, to understand more about this time in my life.  I went to bed, floating between the sheets.  The next morning I had no idea what I was going to do with myself.  Alone, since Marshall had to work and would then watch the UT game (which I didn’t feel like watching). Recovering loneliness in the midst of marriage is both needful and so disorienting … I laid in bed till I realized I needed the peace of wild things (Berry).

Tiny, walnut-sized wrens, wilder-looking, more speckled than the wrens at Overton Place, flitted from naked branch to dry weed stalk, and were gone again.  (They do not tax their lives with forethought of grief [Berry again].)  I wanted to know how to follow them—I wanted to glean their wild fields.

Was it this: that God carefully works the earth for their sustenance, for their happiness? Their living-places, at the riverbank, are suited for them—someone has made them perfect.  It must be God, because who else can care for each wild bird?

And how would I know if my living-places were prepared and maintained for my sustenance, and happiness? My living feels a shambles, often; neglected, strange, on the verge of desolation. But maybe I’m connecting my living too closely with these flashing neon signs for Meniere’s Disease, fertility angst, uncertain careers: our life together feels like a tenuous survival, peppered with gold dust, but when I look at my life, at what I truly believe is mine, a life that’s been given to me, I can cry with longing for it.  I want its delight, its promises, its significance, its small (small, small!) glory. I do. It’s true.

So I say to myself then: Look closely at the life you long for, and keep wanting it. Maybe the lives we desire, with our entire souls, are very slowly being given to us. Maybe we are becoming the people we want to be—or we can. It’s available.

And when I started to think about the life I want to live, so many of the things I wanted I already had—I just wanted more.  I want to love profoundly and be loved profoundly, to wander and take photographs, to be a poet, a naturalist, a farmer, and to have nice kitchen things. I want to have more time, and to feel less guilt.

The life I want isn’t in another country, another time, another universe.