I didn’t want to go grocery shopping. The baby was fussy and she’d finally fallen asleep in the car, so I put the whole car seat in the cart instead of carrying her in the sling. Market Basket is always busy, but not quite as bad in the middle of a Wednesday. As I walked through the door, I immediately felt angrier. People are going to get in my way. A woman looked at the baby and said “Oooo, a baby,” and then kept walking. That is so weird. I only needed a handful of things. I tried to walk in an organized way through the aisles so I would not need to backtrack. I decided not to get two bags of string cheese for my husband. I saw a woman who looked very sad, and I wondered if I looked sad. I didn’t feel sad, but sometimes you don’t look how you feel. I saw a man approaching me with his cart. He’s not going to stop. He’s going to make me stop. I got angry. He looked up at me. He stopped his cart and smiled. I was embarrassed. “Thank you,” I said. He kept smiling.
There is such a special sweetness in being able to participate in creation.Pamela S. Nadav
Six and a half weeks. That is roughly how long before baby Hawkins Knell enters the world. That is roughly how much longer I need to ask for help tying my boots (I definitely never thought I would need to do that), wear Gabe’s L.L. Bean jacket, and gather as much wisdom from those who have gone before. I am waiting with excitement now, much more than fear, and it really became real at the baby shower my sister and family threw for me. There was no denying it: this baby is coming whether I think I’m ready or not.
- I don’t know what things are called. I’ve been researching all the accoutrements so many claim are Must. Have. I’m not much of a researcher (I prefer, instead, to make big decisions based on one or two facts, my gut, and the desire for definitiveness), so it is strange to find myself scrolling article after article about the latest stroller/car seat combo, the best crib ($499, Pottery Barn? I think not.), and the best bottles for a fussy baby (I don’t even know yet if I’ll have a fussy baby…) That being said, Saturday I was sitting at my baby shower, surrounded by women I love, opening gifts. It was my sister’s gift, and out came smooth wooden animals for teething. “Oh! Chew toys!” I said. Facepalm. “Catherine, they’re teething rings,” someone said, laughing, and I, too began to laugh. I also was unsure of the difference between a sling and a wrap, but I was duly informed.
- I only do laundry once every two-three weeks. This is perhaps the area in which I am least prepared for change. When I was single living in the city, I could stretch my wardrobe to nearly three weeks. This was done with an excessive amount of underwear and just enough bath towels. The only thing that really pushed me to do laundry was running out of gym clothes or underwear, and that was when I had a laundry machine and dryer handy in the kitchen. Now, living in New Hampshire, our washer/dryer is on the same floor as our condo, but it’s down the hallway. I can’t tell you how much I hate walking down that hallway with my laundry basket. I can’t even put my finger on it — maybe it’s fear that someone will walk by. Maybe it’s stressing about remembering to change the laundry over so I don’t annoy our neighbors. I hate it so much that usually Gabe throws in a few of my things with his wash, just to avoid my meltdown.
- I don’t know how to simplify my life. I love composting. I know this does not make sense, but every time I open the freezer and pop a pepper top in the Market Basket bag, or knock the tea leaves out of my steeper, I get a surge of joy. I can’t help but marvel at the cycle of life and think about how I am sending energy back into the earth in a way that is life-giving rather than wasteful. However, if you noticed, I said “every time I open the freezer.” That’s because living in a condo does not lend itself well to composting. I’ve struck a deal with my parents that I can bring my frozen scraps to their house, and I do so every time the freezer gets full and Gabe threatens to throw it all in the trash. It’s worth it to me. But it isn’t simple. It isn’t easy. There are a lot of things like that in my life right now. I don’t stock up on staples in my kitchen or snacks at my school because it takes planning, but that makes my days more difficult. I don’t pack my lunches in the evenings to streamline my mornings because that makes me feel like all I do is work or plan for work. I don’t put my reusable grocery bags in my car so I have them with me no matter what because I can’t be bothered to remember. I don’t know how we will make cloth diapers work if I work full-time and currently don’t do laundry. I don’t know how to say no to a new voice student, a coffee date, or a fun dinner out. What I know how to do is freeze my compost, recycle recycle recycle, try to shop frugally, and try to get as much fun in my week as possible. Babies don’t make life easier, they make them more complicated. Yet, I find myself hoping this baby forces me to learn how to slow down, streamline, plan. Fingers crossed.
- I function best with 8-9 hours of sleep. And the thing is, this is barely optional. I am not kind, I am not joyful, and I am not organized when I don’t get enough sleep. The kindness I do have some control over, but the organization? No, that is the first thing to leave my sleep-deprived mind. I don’t remember what I’ve said, the names of things, or my schedule. Nursing in the night is going to be such an interesting adventure.
- I’m not good at leaving my club. This is the one that is least tangible and therefore, the most interesting to me. I realized this about myself when I had my first post-college relationship. All of a sudden, I was in the “Couples Club,” when I hadn’t even known clubs existed at all. I was invited to events I’d never been invited to, I was asked out to double dates with friends who had never asked me to dinner before, and I found myself frustrated for my single-self, the woman who wouldn’t have minded being a third, fifth, or seventh wheel, but who rarely was given the option. Then, over a year ago, I entered the “Married Club.” This club was more overt. Topics of conversation include: buying a house, investing, saving for the future, who-does-what around the house. I enjoy many of these conversations, but it was not lost on me that my 25-year-old self would have no idea what to make of them. In fact, she would have thoroughly stuck her nose up at the boring details of married people. And now, I find myself leaving the “No-Children Club” for the “Mommy Club” (do I have permission to rename it the “Family Club”? “Motherhood Club”? anything but “Mommy Club”?!). These conversations are different: childcare options, diapering options, feeding options, schooling options. My “No-Children Club” self could barely stand it when people got together to discuss their parenting woes, but I see my time on the horizon, and I am afraid. I like the club I’m currently in. I’d like to stay here. Or, perhaps it’s not that. Perhaps it’s that I’d like to be in the “Family Club” and just do things differently.
While I wonder if these things will make motherhood more difficult, I do not lose heart. I know many mothers who could tell me they weren’t ready, either (but really, what does “ready” even mean?). Just like laughing at my ignorance about teething toys and slings, I am beginning to look at this upcoming change with a sense of humor: Isn’t it funny that I am here, doing this thing? Hopefully my baby doesn’t care about clean clothes, either.
[P. S. I should also say that Gabe made me promise to write a post called “5 Reasons I’m Ready for Motherhood” to even this out. I appreciate the balance he brings to my life.]
Yesterday, I turned thirty.
I woke up, got ready for work, kissed my husband goodbye, and headed down the highway. I thought: What music fits today? And, oddly enough, it was Taylor Swift on shuffle. The girl who sang “I’m feeling twenty-two!” is who I wanted to listen to on the day I turned thirty.
I stopped at Bagel World, got a marble rye bagel with olive cream cheese, and ate it at my desk before students arrived. I drank a cup of strong coffee. I remembered birthdays past — some lovely, some less-than-so. I remembered it was also my cousin’s birthday; I’d been born on his tenth birthday three hundred miles away, and now we are each starting a new decade.
I remembered going to a wedding on my 25th and sitting with friends from church at a round table with a white table cloth. Having my name called from the dance floor. Standing in front of a room full of mostly strangers as they sang “Happy Birthday.” Feeling remembered. Feeling embarrassed. Feeling cared for. Feeling like twenty-five was unimaginably old.
When I walked through the lunchroom yesterday, the high schoolers sang “Happy Birthday” (they will always remember because I share a birthday with one of their comrades), and then after school, my international students brought me a surprise birthday cake to make our meeting celebratory. Their bashful faces as they presented it to me reminded me how young and shy they still are.
Coffee with my mom.
Tea with my sister.
Then the drive home to my husband who somehow always knows how to make a day special. We had dinner in the cozy candle-lit upstairs of a restaurant we’d been to, but never upstairs.
“This is perfect,” I said. “We’re at a place we know we like, but a new part of it so it feels like my birthday.”
There were flowers from a friend on the table, texts and phone calls from people I love. Singing voicemails and messages of encouragement.
A beautiful typewriter that I wish I could be using right now to write this blog.
All of this is not to show that I had the most amazing day (even though it was amazing).
Mostly, it is to remind myself that turning thirty is a beautiful accomplishment. Many of the people I most love and admire are thirty or have been at one point. With age comes wisdom (if done correctly), and yesterday I felt more excitement about the year ahead than I did sadness at the years behind. That is saying a lot.
[first day of thirty]
I started writing online in 2012, after a birthday that left me particularly sad and confused and unsure. I was certainly happy to leave twenty-two behind, but there was so much that I couldn’t anticipate about the year to come. So, I sat down on my parents’ couch with a French press of coffee and started this blog (or the early manifestation of it).
For seven years, I’ve been thinking, processing, expressing, sharing, and writing in this space that holds so much of me. There have been times when I’ve looked back and cringed at what I wrote. I’ve even toyed with deleting old posts that feel outdated, not me, or just plain silly to preserve my self-respect. I haven’t let myself, though. To write, you need to be honest.
So, what will I do with my first full day of Thirty?
clean my car do laundry (but I did help with a load…) worry about finances think about what to name the baby stress about the right stroller wonder how I’ll write when I have an infant
Instead, I will make stock out of a chicken we roasted this week and vegetable scraps.
I will clean my desk off, rearrange it, and write a blog post about thirty and all the joy that is to come.
I will go for a ride in the car with my husband.
I will watch an episode of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”
I will enjoy a day of rest, companionship, and anticipation of what is to come.
More than once, I remember walking down the dark stairs with a soft yellow light coming from the living room that told me: Mama’s up. It felt like the middle of the night, but it was probably just a dark early morning. What was I doing awake? Nightmares? Maybe. But often it was just the turning of my own mind, a good book that eased me both into life and out of it again, or the feeling that life was happening around me even as I slept.
I would turn the corner and see her sitting on the couch in the half-light of a small lamp. A candle burned on the coffee table, ushering in contemplation. A mug of hot tea steamed beside her. I don’t remember wondering why she was awake. I might have asked her, but what sits in my memory is curling up next to her — her book sacrificially (and I don’t mean that lightly) set aside for the curve of her daughter’s body against hers and the thoughts that came tumbling out of her mind and heart and soul.
We share so many similarities, me and my mother.
I have been waking up around 3:00AM these days with restlessness in my bones. I am not one of those people whose creativity grows out of sleeplessness, nor am I productive in any tangible way when it is dark. But right now, I am sitting on my couch with a huge pillow behind my back. I have lit the candle my mother taught me created soft space, and I have a mug of loose-leaf tea steeping by my elbow. It is dark except for the candle, the glow of my laptop, and a faint light on the stairs. I can hear my husband breathing as he sleeps, the sounds of his in-and-out drifting down the stairs, making me not so concerned that I woke him with my movements.
Part of the reason I’ve been waking up is someone else’s movement. The little limbs that grow bigger every day, that seem to kick and stretch in perfect rhythm, over and over again like a drum. This is not frustration I feel. This is gratitude.
Lately, my participation in creativity has consisted of giving feedback to high schoolers’ essays, knitting one or two huge rounds of a baby blanket I semi-regret starting, and attempting to dress myself each morning despite me deep desire to crawl back into bed. No time, no time, no time. That is one phrase I am sick of watching run through my head on a tired reel. Perhaps this is why I’m waking up? There’s time now.
Because I don’t remember asking my mother why she woke up in the night, I am left to conjecture. As I approach motherhood, I am convinced it had something to do with little ones needing her constantly. What is alone time to a mother of four? Maybe she even woke herself up on purpose. Maybe she reveled in the moments of candle-lit darkness, the only ones that brought her quiet, ease, and a settling-in with herself.
And then I intrude, a little girl who never once thought: maybe Mama wants to be alone. It never crossed my mind, and she certainly never made me feel that way. She set her book or her notebook aside as though it had merely been filling time until I came down. She made me my own cup of tea. We rested awake together.
I do not yet have anyone to wander down the stairs and ask me to set things aside. I type away and am free to wonder what the future will hold.
Will I wake in the night on purpose to steal a few moments for myself?
Will I find time to write and think and be Catherine, even when most of my creative energy will be going into shaping and caring for and loving a brand new human?
Will I hold in one hand my desire for quiet contemplation and writing, and in the other welcome my child’s sleepy-but-awake body next to mine?
Somehow, I will do both, I am sure. I will learn how to work with the rhythms that come naturally, as well as create new ones that I need. I see my mother’s desire to steal away time for herself, but also her love for her children. I want both of these things.
And so, I start now. It was easy to swing my legs out of bed, to stop trying to fall back asleep. It was easy to create a warm space for me to finally put some words down.
With practice, I will be able to do this anytime, anywhere, with anyone.
“I love wearing sunglasses,” my mother would say, flipping a large brown pair of shades on. “I feel so invisible!”
When I was little, I didn’t know what she meant. How did covering her eyes make her feel invisible? But even more importantly, why was that a good thing?
__ __ __
I’m sitting in the middle of a seminar on using ancient writings in our own work. My friend, Kate, and I are intrigued by the premise, but neither of us is so sure it applies to what we write. Regardless, the dark-haired, dark-skinned man with the beautiful British accent has us listening attentively to his quiet words. He uses terms I don’t understand, he tries to get us to respond creatively to an upsetting image of a man sitting atop a wreckage that was presumably once his home, and suddenly I am feeling a little anxious. The words I’m choosing to describe the image are not strong. I don’t know Sanskrit or Middle English, or apparently English, as I have to cross-out and write again.
I have so many questions for this man, like how do we use beautiful, interesting words but not sound like intellectual pricks? or, how has this practice informed your own work?, but I am silenced by a young woman in the back. She is perhaps a few years younger than me (or older — at this point, I have no concept of age), and her hand is popping up every few minutes. She is clearly well-educated and articulate (two things we should value), but I bristle against her neediness. I have compassion for her neediness, but I do not want to be associated with it. Her neediness represents my own deep desire to be acknowledged by this writer-thinker man, and now it will never happen.
At the end of the seminar, he leans back in his chair and says he welcomes any questions. Kate and I get up to leave. The young woman from the back hurries forward, eager with even more thoughtful questions, comments. I hear her proclaim herself a Classicist, and I realize why I feel so uncomfortable: this jostling for teacher approval reminds me too much of college, of the constant push and shove of attention-needers and attention-givers. I had chosen not to participate then, and as I leave the tiny room with the loud fan and the thoughtful seminar-goers, my questions and ideas still locked up inside me, I wonder if I missed out, both then and now.
__ __ __
Saturday, I drove to our day-long choir rehearsal with the top down, a green Red Sox baseball cap on, and a pair of sunglasses. Suddenly, I knew what my mother was talking about. Invisibility, when undesired, can cause pain. Feeling unseen or unknown can pop up eight years later at a writers’ conference in an embarrassing and surprising way.
And yet, invisibility sought is power.
The ability to see but not be seen, to observe unobserved. After all, isn’t that what being a writer is all about? How could one observe the world from a stage? Or the same with artists: the artist observes the subject, not the other way around. As I drove in my unintended disguise along the highway, down the winding streets to rehearsal, I felt as though I saw everything but no one knew what I looked like. I was invisible, it was chosen, and it felt good.
It is strange to me that this same feeling can be so debilitating if not desired. In some ways, I think I imagined myself unnoticed in college, and from there, it became the case. Like I tell my students when they sigh, “No one likes me!”, there is no better way to make sure that is true than to think it. I see them separate themselves at lunch, hide away in their phones or their books, and the self-fulfilling prophecy unfolds before my eyes.
If you behave like no one likes you, no one will.
If you leave a seminar with your questions still bubbling up inside you, no one will be able to engage them.
Maybe your invisibility, then, is always a choice — sometimes desired, sometimes not, but always chosen.
Yesterday, as I was leaving school for the summer, I thought: Why does this always end with a whimper? The build-up, the high-energy anticipation of finals and graduation and students’ summer excitement dissipate, and I am left cleaning out my room, attending meetings, and, at the end of the day, wandering out of the building with the sense that this cannot be the end.
It is the end, though, and the 2017-2018 school year is over. In many ways, this year has been fraught with anxiety. Getting married is always a little daunting, but doing it in November with two days of honeymooning is perhaps lunatic. Poor Gabe had to adjust to my moods and my fears and my intense joy (although he claims none of this was surprising to him), and I was expected to jump right back into my life although it no longer looked like my life. The students never know what to call me, and my coworker says it’s my fault (“Pick one!” he teased). What I picked is too long, so the students are left oscillating between Miss Hawkins, Mrs. Knell, Ms. Knell, Mrs. Hawkins, and the poor things stutter just like I do when I introduce myself to new students.
“I’m M….” I say, shaking their hand, blinking, because if I say Miss Hawkins, I feel like I’m lying. If I say Mrs. Knell, I feel like I’m talking about someone else. Usually, I settle for something like Ms. Knell or even Ms. Hawkins Knell, and the interaction is far more awkward for people watching than it is for the new student who will forget my name entirely.
__ __ __
This is the first full day of summer, and the first day of my writing challenge: write for one hour every morning. I feel like Hemingway and Woolf and all these writers I admire and loathe at the same time are sitting behind me, with typewriters, a cigarette dangling out of their mouth, and a glass of bourbon, muttering, “Come on, seriously? You’re daunted by writing one hour a day? You haven’t got the stuff.” I hear their typewriter keys clicking furiously even while the birds are singing out my open window, and I think, You’re right. I haven’t.
What is THE STUFF?
I went to a Barre class for the first time at the YMCA last night, and as I worked up the most disgusting sweat and realized the 60-year-old woman in the corner was way stronger than I, I realized that maybe ‘the stuff’ to go to a Barre class and finish without dying is the same stuff I need to do this challenge.
Maybe ‘the stuff’ looks more like writing a 5k than being creative genius.
Maybe ‘the stuff’ is the same thing that gets me up out of bed at 6:00AM during the school year.
Or, maybe ‘the stuff’ is the fake-it-till-you-make it attitude that has gotten me through many of life’s challenges so far.
If I tell myself “You’ve got this!” every morning, maybe I’ll have a slim pile of poems or a well-crafted essay come September.
There’s also the chance that what I will have is not so much a beautiful finished product but a stronger writing muscle. The ability to sit and write for an hour without stopping. The well-worked creativity that has been hiding for some time.
Either way, I don’t know how people write outside of a writing community. That’s what I emailed my writers’ group this morning as I embarked on my first hour of slow and dutiful typing. I know I couldn’t slog through the hard times without other writer friends who remind me that process and product are inseparable, and that a good dose of reality mixes well with some naive optimism.
Summer 2018 looks scary and exciting, and while I may not know exactly what to have my students call me, I do know that as a writer, I am Catherine Hawkins, and that feels about right.
Before operating on a person’s brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end…Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight (Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air, 98).
I woke in the night, anxious. I was hot, so I threw the covers off. Then I was cold, so I put them back on. I kept rolling over, trying to find a comfortable position, but my brain would have none of this sleeping thing. At 2:50, I turned my light on (thank goodness even though Gabe wakes up, he can usually fall back asleep), took a small book from the pile by the bed, and started to read.
I haven’t read in the middle of the night since I was a little girl in my parents’ home. I used to love the feeling of rebellion (who was I rebelling against? certainly not my parents, who didn’t care if I slept or read or wrote or dreamed — whatever consequences came from lack of sleep were mine and mine only), and the sense that I had found a book so good, so tantalizing, that I couldn’t sleep until it was over. My sister was a deep sleeper, also, so I never had to live with the guilt of a light in the night or the sound of pages turning.
It’s been harder to sleep through the night lately, and I’ve taken to reading or sometimes watching The Office. The soothing voices of Jim and Pam, the irritating voices of Michael and Angela, somehow these help me transcend the nighttime anxieties of why did I say that? what was I thinking? what will I do for work this summer? why am I not writing? why do I still stink at doing laundry in a timely fashion?
Reading also helps me let go of these thoughts, but instead of easing me into the comedy of a group of employees who never work, it often tricks me into thinking not about the daily worries of a relational human but into questions far beyond the capacity of a tired woman who must get up at 6:00AM.
It might have something to do with the books I’m choosing.
My uncle recommended it to me over dinner with the proper warning: “Be sure you have tissues.” I didn’t have any tissues at hand, but I thought: I have read many sad things. Sometimes I cry. Usually I don’t. So I read it anyway in the middle of the night, this tiny book with a title scary enough to make me wonder if I was being wise.
When Breath Becomes Air — at three in the morning, I read the words of a dying man (he reminds me we’re all dying but he more imminently than most). Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon-in-training, a husband, a hardworking, depths-reaching, meaning-seeking 36-year-old is diagnosed with lung cancer, and suddenly, it seems the future he’d been working toward is completely altered.
Everyone succumbs to finitude…Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned: either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder towards the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed (198).
I felt a strange kinship with this man I would never meet. He was full of many loves, many gifts, and like me, he had studied English AND… although his AND was biology leading to medical school, not music. This foot-in-both-worlds accounts for his visceral descriptions of the brain, of the opened body, of tumors precisely removed with deft fingers. It also accounts for a question that he seemed to have wrestled with much of his life: “If the unexamined life is not worth living, is the unlived life worth examining?” (31). In college, this question leads him to take a job at a summer camp rather than an intern at a research center, and it isn’t the only time he will choose human relationship over his so-called “monastic, scholarly study of human meaning” (31).
I was reading because I felt anxious about something I could not name, and this reading led me into questions of meaning, truth, death and its inextricable connection with life. I knew he would die — my uncle had told me and I had read the “About the Author” to be sure — yet I kept thinking: maybe he won’t actually die — maybe they find a cure, maybe he dies, but years and years later, maybe my uncle was misjudging my ability to handle intensity.
And then he and his wife decide to have a baby. She is born. She lives eight months. And he dies. He dies in his hospital bed surrounded by family. He gives his unknowing daughter a last kiss, he takes a deep breath, his breath becomes air.
Neurosurgery requires a commitment to one’s own excellence and a commitment to another’s identity. The decision to operate at a all involves an appraisal of one’s own abilities, as well as a deep sense of who the patient is and what she holds dear (108).
Suddenly, I was holding this book with this ending that felt incomplete. His wife Lucy writes an epilogue — sweet, loving, rounding out Paul’s person with authenticity — and I wondered what it must have been like to be in love with a man who was dying and writing, writing and dying, and wanting a child with him even so you could have a daily reminder that he was real, you loved him, and he died.
I was reading to stop my worrying and I had replaced it with deep sadness. Death comes for everyone, of this I have been aware since I was 9 years old and my grandfather died despite my utter determination to pray him into life, and I still do not believe it.
I still think that somehow I will defy the ultimate leveler.
And in the same breath, death feels right around the corner, closer to me than I hope most 29-year-olds feel.
In some ways, I think the worries I have about living enough, doing enough, hurry hurry hurry, all stem from this belief that death really is close at hand, and I am unutterably lucky to have lived as long as I have.
Maybe it stems from my blood clot at 22, my reckoning with if this is the end, how do I want it to look?
Paul Kalanithi did what he had set out to do: he taught me how to die, and in so doing, really showed me how to live. As his wife Lucy wrote in the epilogue:
Paul’s decision to look death in the eye was a testament not just to who he was in the final hours of his life but who he had always been. For much of his life, Paul wondered about death — and whether he could face it with integrity. In the end, the answer was yes (225).
“To live is Christ, to die is gain” — even at my best, I find this hard to fully embody.
I closed the book, put it back on the floor, and wept into my pillow. I cried for Paul, for his dreams that had to die, for his wife and daughter, for his family and friends. I cried for myself, for the husband who slept next to me, who might leave this world at any moment like a puff of smoke. I cried for my grandma and her twenty years of living alone. I cried for my students who are just beginning to wrestle with these questions of meaning and truth, and I cried for any child I might have — for the sorrow that inevitably awaits her, the pain she will without doubt experience in this beautiful and terrifying world.
I was reading to forget my anxieties, and in a sense, I did. Instead of focusing on the minute, meaningless worries, I was forced to confront the root of fear and ask myself:
How do I want to die?
Then how do I need to live?
This morning, I put on my cheap white Old Navy sneakers and headed out the door of our new home.
When I moved to Somerville, it was the beginning of a beautiful summery September. I walked everywhere. I quickly learned that the bike path, while not faster than College Ave, at least offered more beauty and quiet. I peered into shop windows. I wandered into a vegan taco shop (accidently) and was sorely disappointed by my cheeseless/meatless taco. I discovered I didn’t have to go to the artsy, hipster (and, ultimately, quite depressing) coffee shop in Davis, but that delicious coffee was around every corner. I learned that cutting through Nathan Tufts park was the best way to prolong a good phone call or enjoy the last rays of a setting sun.
When I moved to this new town, with its rich history and fascinating blend of socio-economic statuses and educations, it was the cold, snowy month of November. Gabe and I got married Thanksgiving weekend, and even though it was a beautiful and fun celebration (there were points in the evening when he would lean over to me at our little table for two and whisper: I wish we could live this over and over again), it didn’t leave much time for settling in. Christmas flew upon us in a whirlwind, and I was suddenly asked to split holidays and change my ideas of how things go. By the time the New Year started, I had only tried two restaurants in our new hometown, and for this pretend-Bostonian, that is shocking.
I didn’t take a single walk.
I drove to the post office, the town hall. I drove to the famed sports bar/restaurant for a buffalo chicken calzone (not even close to Mike’s). I drove to the YMCA, worked out, and drove home. I drove to the DMV and sat groaning for over an hour, only to be told that I needed to change my name with Social Security first. I gripped the edge of the counter, leaned backward and said through my teeth: “I am not mad at you, but I am very mad.”
Not only had I moved to a new state, but that state was not so sure it wanted me.
It’s taking me awhile to settle in because I’ve been confined to my car. Or I’ve been in our condo, trying to set up our home in such a way that we want to spend time here. We’ve arranged furniture, cooked new meals, cleaned the bathrooms. I’ve been so consumed with teaching and life changes, that I haven’t actually settled in.
So today, I emptied the dishwasher. I prayed. I walked downtown. I looked at the buildings I passed. I smiled at the runners (I am still in awe). I met a high school friend for coffee, and she connected me with a friend who is involved with a local church Gabe and I are considering. I drank a hot coffee and tried to explain my experience with the Church, with church, with God, in a few sentences. It felt new and interesting to do this, partly because so many times I talk to the same people who have known my my whole life, or at least my whole adult life.
I walked over the river to the library and got my library card. That’s how I know it’s official. I checked out two books, partly to show the librarian I mean business.
— — —
As you can see, I’ve decided not to stop blogging. I seriously, seriously considered it. I went over all the reasons it may be time to move on. I had a few good ones.
But then I set up my desk.
It is the largest desk I’ve ever had. Gabe and I found it at a thrift shop and picked it up with my father’s truck two days later. I am still not using it to its fullest potential, but I have a lamp. I have plants. I have a candle.
There’s something about this desk that begs me to write at it, just like this new town begs me to walk its sidewalks.
Discover it for who it is. Bring to it who I am.
That’s what I plan to do here, as well.
When do you know if you’ve outgrown something? If something that used to bring you joy and challenge and even comfort now just leaves you a bit anxious?
I haven’t written in months.
I’ve jotted down a line here and there. A scrap of a poem. The beginnings of various essays. Some journal entries (due largely in part to my short story class I taught in the fall…)
But nothing for this.
And what is this, anyway? It feels a bit naive to think that a blog is a valuable use of my time. I do not plan on being discovered this way (notice: this way), and I wonder if it’s time to throw in the towel.
You’ve had a good run. Thanks, old friend. Time to move on.
This question is all the more pressing because this blog will expire on February 18th unless I decide to continue.
Do I pull the plug and hope that something else fuels my creativity the way this used to?
[Maybe I’ll finally write on Saturday mornings without a deadline forcing me?]
Do I admit that I have had writer’s block (which I don’t even believe in) for roughly a year and a half?
[Maybe all the places I’ve been/things that I’ve done/books that I’ve read will inspire me?]
Or do I plunk some money down, embrace this place as something that will continue to challenge and grow me, and make myself type?
Jury’s still out.
But this is the most I’ve written since August, so maybe there’s hope yet.
[Photo: Gabe Knell]
I have been laboring over this piece now for days. It’s the first time I’ve ever sung alto in a choir, and my reading skills are finally being honed after years of skirting by on melody. My music is all marked up in a vain attempt to make sense of the accidentals and crazy key changes and seemingly senseless alto line.
I take a deep breath.
I plunk out the notes again.
Jen tells me to listen to the recording, to try to pick out my part.
“Copland thinks chordally, so it’s really helpful,” she says.
The first moment we began singing it in choir, I thought: Have I sung this before? How do I know this?
Ah, years ago. In Boston — Jen was the soloist and my mom and I had travelled down to see her. It’s a big piece. An overwhelming piece. And I could feel right away that I had heard it before.
It’s kicking my butt.
~ ~ ~
Miss Hawkins, is English your life?
[Just one of them.]
In reference to Edmond Dantés and Mercédès:
Well, obviously they didn’t love each other enough, or they would have waited. They would have gotten married.
[Hold on: What about circumstances? What about life? Is it possible that you can love someone deeply but have it not work out?]
In reference to Aylmer and Georgiana in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark:”
I think he really loved her. He was trying to help her.
[Woah, woah, woah! Careful. What is love? Aylmer obsesses over a tiny blemish on his wife’s cheek, to the point where it is all he sees of her. All her beauty and charm and kindness means nothing. Is that love? Trying to change someone? Trying to make them perfect?]
In reference to a grammar grade:
Wait – so you took a whole point off because I missed a verb tense?
[Yes, it’s called grammar.]
Why aren’t you married yet?
[Because I haven’t met anyone I wanted to see every day for the rest of my life.]
[Here is where I wonder at their ideas of love and marriage. How I find it more amazing that anyone has found someone they like enough to see every day than it is that I haven’t.]
Why do you like writing so much? It’s boring.
[No! My heart!]
Why would you want to become a teacher?
[Here, I pause. Why? Do I tell them the truth? That it crept up on me and surprised me? That really, these twelve faces are the reason I became a teacher? And all their manifestations? They think I am not cool because I’m a teacher. This bums me out.]
Miss Hawkins, can I have some of your buffalo chicken calzone?
~ ~ ~
As difficult as the Copland has proven to be, it isn’t the piece that excites me. It’s the Whitacre that puts bubbles in my blood, makes my heart swirl. I listen to it over and over. I imagine da Vinci, consumed, obsessed, like Aylmer in Hawthorne’s short story.
the sirens’ song
I wonder what it must be like to feel compelled to create. To destroy the boundaries that the known world has imposed.
I sink into the low notes with silky enjoyment of their depth.
I paint pictures with my voice.
[7th graders: This is one of my other lives.]