Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Inch Sixteen: Writing. Or Not.

Three weeks into my new space, I find that I am better at keeping my clutter out of our living space and better at not letting clutter (mine or otherwise) pile up on the desk in my new space. I find I use my new space to organize myself, to pay bills, to make to do lists.

What I don't use my new space for is writing. I keep all of my writing tools up there—notebooks, pens, stationery, envelopes, favorite books, dictionary—but the actual writing is done at the kitchen table or in the downstairs study on the couch (where I am penning this right now) or even on the fly. Last Sunday Warren had a rehearsal prior to a concert, and I added another 3000 words to something I have been working on for some time and which had laid fallow since February. I scribbled away contentedly, tucked into a corner of a church pew, while the rehearsal took place. (Now that's writing.)

My good friend Tani, who has a nagging urge to write,  wrote me recently about writing. Tani is a school teacher and so looks to her summers as an opportunity to do all kinds of projects that get set aside during the school year. She wrote: What I'm spending most of my time on is NOT-WRITING. There are so so many things that make it easy to NOT-WRITE.

I loved how Tani capitalized and hyphenated the condition of NOT-WRITING. There are lots of days that I too suffer from NOT-WRITING.

Talking yesterday with my friend Cecelia, who also has the writing gene, I asked her if she was writing these days. No, but she had a game plan to create dedicated time in her busy life (family, work, young children) and I nodded. "That's a start."

We all need a place from which to start. 

Challenging myself to write a blog post a week has been good for me. It makes me stare at the paper (or the wall or the backyard) and put down my thoughts. It holds me accountable, a phrase we use a lot in juvenile court. What I haven't done yet is turn this effort into a part of my daily life.

The poet William Stafford got up early every day and set aside an hour in which to write. Stafford commented more than once on this practice, of making a cold room warm, of keeping the light low and the room dark beyond the perimeter of his desk, of writing in the quiet empty time before dawn. His son Kim Stafford, also a writer, captured the essence of this habit in his memoir about his father, Early Morning: "When you read my father's poems, you are with him there, in the early morning. Others are sleeping, but you are with him to discover something independent of frenzy, word by word, before dawn."

That's my ultimate goal: to create a space in my day like Stafford created, where it is just me and the page, trying to discover something, word by word.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Inch Fifteen: After the Visit

Ben and Alise and Ramona have been gone for over two weeks now. We had a wonderful week together at the end of May, a week full of love and the joy of having your children and grandchild under the same roof. It was a visit that reassured me deep in my heart that, despite the geographical distance (2500 miles), the fabric of family is still strong. My only regret (well, other than that distance) is that the fireflies did not appear for the year until ten days after they left. (Westerner that she is, Alise was so hoping to see one!)

Although they are back home and have been so for half the month, I find myself slow in erasing the final traces of the visit.

The ducks and the fish still sit sentinel on the bathtub.

Fat Cat is on the stripped down bed in the spare bedroom. (The Pack-N-Play went back to my friend Donna.)

The bottle of bubbles is still "napping" on top of the refrigerator. ("Napping" is what certain objects did when Ramona got obsessed and demanding with something. Certain books "napped" for some of the week, for example.)

And speaking of books, the bookshelves are still a mess.

I haven't put the blocks away yet either. The marbles for the one set are still in a kitchen drawer. They are still napping too.

I think I tell myself that if I don't put this stuff away just yet, Ramona isn't quite gone.

When I was a child, I memorized the poem "Little Boy Blue" by Eugene Field. Field was a nineteenth century American poet and journalist. Most of his works have faded from the public's awareness, although his poem "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" has hung on over the century plus since Field died.

"Little Boy Blue" is about the sudden death of a child (not Field's own, despite popular lore). The family does not put away the last toys the little boy played with, but leaves them on the chair where he last placed them. The toys sit, gathering dust:

And they wonder, as waiting the long years through
   In the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our Little Boy Blue,
   Since he kissed them and put them there.

The toys on the chair in the poem, the ducks on the edge of the tub. It is not unlike what Joan Didion called "magical thinking" in her account of the year after her husband's sudden death. Mine is benign and mild: unlike the lost child of the poem, Ramona will return to pick up where she left off, ruling the house and the day.

I will eventually put away the bath toys, the blocks, the books, the bubbles. But not yet, not now. Let me hold onto my magical thinking for just a little while longer.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Inch Fourteen: The Commute

I had to drive to downtown Columbus today for a daylong training at the Ohio Supreme Court building. The session started at 8:30 a.m., so I joined the morning commute south down US 23, then over to Route 315 to the heart of downtown, a distance of about 30 miles each way.

There are people in this town who commute that distance (and more) every single workday.

Me? I work about four blocks away. Sometimes Warren drops me off on the way to his office (about six blocks from our house) and I walk home when I am done. In the summer, I often walk both ways. Only during truancy season (November to April), when I need a car, do I routinely drive to work.

There are others in this part of town who also walk to their downtown jobs regularly.

I ended up sitting with my friend Emma at the training today. At the first break, we talked about how she has now moved her law offices to Delaware even though she still lives in Columbus. As a result, Emma is spending $200 and more a month just for gasoline.

Holy smokes! If I spend more than $50 in any one month for gasoline, that's noteworthy. The last few weeks may be the sole exception: between my family visiting and an out-of-town wedding rehearsal and today's trip to Columbus, I may go over that mark. On the other hand, with summer upon us, I may not gas up again until late August.

25 years ago, I used to commute 90+ miles one way a few days a week. I lived in Stockton, California, in the valley and worked in Berkley. At the time, it seemed perfectly normal. After all, every day there were hundreds of us threading the Altamont Pass and dropping down into the Bay Area. (Now there are thousands on that same stretch.) Looking back, I cannot imagine why that seemed like a good idea, other than the regular paycheck.

Not everyone lives where they can walk to work. Not everyone is capable of walking to work. Today's drive reminded me how grateful I am that I am able in every way to make that bipedal commute.

Besides my gratitude, there were some other noteworthy moments to today's commute. There was the employee wearing the doughnut suit outside the Dunkin' Donuts shop on south 23. (Imagine a giant pink iced doughnut with legs, and you get the picture.) Coming home at day's end, I opted for a slower commute on 315, which winds along the Olentangy River. There was a blue heron poised by a retaining pond, ignoring the cars rolling by. And waiting for the light at 23 North, despite the rumble of nearby highway traffic, I heard the sharp trills of birds piercing the air. I idled there with my windows rolled down, trying to whistle what I heard, listening to them call again and again, summer in their voices.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Inch Thirteen: The Quiet

I am writing not in my new spot but rather at the kitchen table tonight. It is 7:00 p.m. and it has rained more or less nonstop for the last six hours. The air tonight is cold and damp, more like mid-spring or mid-autumn than June. I am dressed in sweats for warmth.

I am home alone for a handful of nights this week. Warren is in Seattle at the national conference of the League of American Orchestras. He will be a co-presenter tomorrow, an honor not given lightly and one that is well-deserved.

It is odd for him to be gone, which may be one of several reasons I am writing in the kitchen at the core of the house, rather than in my new space upstairs. The house is so quiet with just me here. (Admittedly, I can also sprawl my papers, my briefcase, my pens, my stuff all over the table, but it is the sense of aloneness that colors everything.)

In the seven and a half years that we have been together, we have rarely been apart for a night. This year we have already racked up two separations, a brief one in May when Warren flew to New York for a workshop, and now this one. (As I write these lines, I suddenly realize that last year we were apart three times—all my doing—but it just seems like more this year.)

Warren and I have occasionally (as in rarely) talked about what it will be like for him after I die, what it will be like for him to stay on in this house. (Obviously, I assume I am dying first, given the cancer.) I hope Warren will find comfort in the memories of our times together in this house. I hope that he will be able to sit at the table and remember my sitting here writing.

Death has been on my mind a lot lately for the reason that my first husband, David, died suddenly and unexpectedly ten days ago. He had been in touch with me a few times in recent months. One email led to a discussion of death, ironically. David declared we were still of an age where he considered us "immortal" and was perplexed that I did not share the feeling.

And then came the email from Muriel, his mother, telling me he had died.

David was bright and arrogant and witty and cocksure. As Katrina said after I shared the news and the obituary (for she too knew David), he was a complicated person.

David was complicated, one of many reasons out marriage did not last. But now that complicated individual is dead and there is only the quiet left.

The quiet here will end in a few more days. This house will again fill up with music and  Reds baseball broadcasts and the mundane questions of daily life: "Where is...?" " Do you have...?" "When is...?" And I will take tremendous comfort in knowing that Warren is home and we are both still here.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

One Foot: Writing Space

Back in March, I realized something fundamental was missing in my life. I wasn't writing on a regular basis and I missed it deeply. So I set a target of at least one blog post a week. To keep the goal attainable, I adopted Anne Lamott's square inch focus.

As of last week, I'd completed a foot. I'm ready to go ahead to the next 12 inches.

We turned our house upside down for Ramona and her parents' visit of the week just past. That meant completely emptying two rooms for fresh paint and carpet, which gave us a chance to ask what we really wanted in each room. What we both wanted, it turned out, was less clutter and fewer objects. And I wanted a space in which  to write.

I've had a space all along, mind you. For years, I'd used a small table as my desk, tucked into the corner of the downstairs study in this house. But in the last few years, my table became my catchall instead, gathering a steady blanket of papers, mail, files, receipts, my briefcase.

There was never any space in or even on which to write.

As we rearranged the rooms, I announced that I wanted a new space and did not want the table cluttering the study. Right now the table is in the overflow bedroom (where we moved everything we have not yet gotten around to sorting, tossing, hanging, or donating) leaning against a closet door. And I have moved my personal space to the north bedroom—my husband's bedroom in his youth and adolescence.

I am writing here now, in fact, getting used to the new space. I am writing in longhand as the computer I use is in the upstairs study, a room away. I have a window to the backyard. I am using an old desk that my brother-in-law used in his grade school years and that my stepson David used in his. David is the one who gave it the "distressed" finish (gouges, carvings, burn marks) it now sports. The room needs repainted from the pallid, institutional green it now is, and I want to change to artwork, but it is a good start.

And I am writing.