Saturday, June 28, 2014

late june.

it's a beautiful summer in morgantown. there is water, the kind you can play in. lakes and rivers and ponds. miniature forest waterfalls, which i discovered with friends many years ago. child and daylight hours willing, i'll rediscover them before the season settles down for a 9-month nap; if not, i'm content just knowing they're close by. there are big swatches of grass for sitting and running and lying down. there are patios and paddle boats. and parks and parks and parks! of every size; with noise or silence; in town and on the outskirts. there is outdoor music. cracks in neighborhood sidewalks for little boys to jump over. a busy downtown with friendly strangers to pet friendly pit bulls.

i have life-size hopes for the summer, or rather, for me in its hot, blurry expanse. i want to meet the mornings early rather than late so i can take my boy to the park or the pool and get home in time for his nap, which is nature's medicine for both of us. i want pizza, maybe once a week from the riverfront coal-fired place with the cool deck or the NY-style place that only does takeout or, if a walk downtown is in order, the place that's the late-night favorite of drunk college kids and used to have the best slices in town until some obviously nonitalian family bought it. and i must have lots and lots of the best ice cream ever, rita's custard style, so thick i could almost cut it with a knife. i want to be able to say to my dog, "yes, jokey, you're coming" at least once per day when he runs to grab his leash if i get too close to the front door. that dog. i've loved him from the start, even when i didn't intend to keep him, but now ... now he's my only dog, and now i'm head over heels because in only a month here he's been such a good, good boy. and my boy! i want endless sunny afternoons lit all the more by his smile, which inevitably turns his two-year-old face into a replica of mine at that age. when he laughs really hard, his two slightly big front teeth become exclamation points popping out from behind his lips. i love to watch him run on the grassy hillside by the river downtown, partly because his joy is, as they say, contagious, and partly because his flapping arms and unsteady gait make him look like a little penguin. one day he'll run like a big boy and it won't be funny anymore.

this summer, i've got it: the life on which i had set my sights three years ago come mid-july. i'm here with my boy and my dog and we have a comfy little place to call ours. and i get paid to write! what a dream. it could only be dreamier if there were even more clients and a recurring article in an online or print magazine or newspaper. i get to work in my pajamas. or whatever i feel like wearing, which is usually not pajamas but the workout clothes in which i'll eventually jog through town, big-wheeled stroller in one hand, leash in the other. working with a mercurial toddler in my face every few minutes isn't ideal—but then, it is. it's the way i originally envisioned it. no daycare. just us. i don't have enough help, but what i have makes sense. my parents. they have a beautiful relationship with my son. he's the moon to their tide. he visits them and spends time with my brother, who also adores him in his understated, funny way. it's the best it can be.

this summer, i've become a real-deal, stay-at-home, work-at-home single mother. what a mouthful ... for a handful ... that's me, i'm told. makes sense. "single mom" ... i wince at that label because i'm afraid it sounds pitiful. nobody really wants pity, do they? i think what most people actually want is understanding. yes. YES. please. i want you to understand that unless you've experienced it, you don't understand it—and i'll do the same for you. i want you to not diminish my feelings with your feelings—and i'll do the same for you. i want you to apologize—and i will too. this will all take some practice. it'll never be perfect. keep practicing. things will feel nicer. that's the best it can be.

today i took my dog to a park i'd never seen. ten minutes or so outside town. there were campgrounds and playgrounds and ponds. we walked and walked. families fished and picnicked. from a distance over the hill, small children with unremarkable features squealed and splashed in dollar-store inner tubes. strangers remarked at my handsome spotted dog and how he listened when i said "stay" while i took his picture. the sun grew larger above us, turning up the color of the grass from bright to neon. i wrote a belated email by the pond. private joker waited patiently. i ate stale sesame sticks from the reusable, environmentally friendly snack bag that was sent to me as a sample when i was a magazine editor in memphis. my spotted dog's panting became louder with the sun. we packed up.

back in my car, i noticed the passenger seat was filthy and covered in dog hair, despite how i'd tried to cover it with a sheet. i thought i'd clean it when i got home. i didn't. i've been here: typing. stopping to discuss dinner plans with an old friend. typing some more. thinking about stopping to do some squats. typing again. wondering what happened to the huge rat who appeared to be dying in my yard this morning but was gone when i returned. hoping this summer will bring backyard cookouts with a group of friends i don't yet have. pining for the ocean.

this city has given my life color again. the summer is as wide open as the sky. i bow in gratitude.

Friday, June 13, 2014

a beginning becoming.

here is my mind, my whole mind right now: love is the worst thing i've ever met.  

right now, i could choose to pull a switch from the heavens of my head and turn that grey cloud into white. rather than poke the bruises that love seems to eternally intend to cover me with, i could choose to instead recall the innumerable ways in which love manifests, the bits and pieces of brilliance it brings to life. 

i could remember when my mom took me to the mall in 7th grade and bought me an outfit from the "fancy" store, the limited. an entire outfit. this was big. the love in it wasn't about the purchase, of course, but about the effort mom made and the time we spent together. my outfit had a t-shirt, maybe purple? a silky, multicolored vest, and pleated, linen pants the color of the kroger-brand dijon in my fridge. afterward we went to the cookie company, the one that had a case full of supersized birthday cookies loaded with white and chocolate icing. i coveted them but never had one because my cakes were made by the cat-collecting baker up the street from our house. i wonder how many cat hairs i ate over all my years of childhood birthdays. while in line, mom told me i should wear flat shoes with my pants because "that's how they're wearing it." i asked her who "they" were, knowing exactly what she had meant yet unable to resist the recalcitrance urging my lips to assert that "they" would not dictate anything i did. my mom, as far back as i remember, has never been one to turn away a blunt word or two when the occasion comes knocking, but she was more careful toward me and therefore refrained from calling me the little shit that i was. nowadays, no longer. she's become her mother—my short, round, crinkly grandma, who birthed 17 children and had no time for beating around a bush.

right now, i could choose to look at love right in front of me. in a thrift store in memphis, i found a bulletin board in a wooden picture frame; someone had drawn a choo-choo-type train on it with a sharpie. it sits on the back of my desk, resting against the wall. tacked to it are are a few of the many love notes my parents sent me from 2006-2011 and an airline luggage sticker with a handwritten note from my soul-sister friend erin who came to see me in 2009. i could go into my laptop photo files and recall the best moments of her visit, among them a pool party where we drank bud light from cans and failed at hula hooping. my favorite is a close-up of erin after she crashed into a bush, wearing a bathing suit, a hula hoop, and a smile.

i could walk to my tv stand and flip through the photo album from my baby shower, an unexpected gift from a cousin whose extensions of helpfulness during my pregnancy belied the fact that we hadn't seen each other much since childhood even though we had gone to high school together. my "you're wearing all black to your baby shower?" baby shower. my cowboy boots were not black but an orange-y tan, and my necklace had bright orange beads. as the facts of my life tend to do, these did not sway my mother's wry disillusionment. all is as it should be.

love in memory—i can make that as pretty a picture as i want. love in the present, i cannot. this week, love has not made me smile. has not given me hope. this week, i have felt bewildered by love. i choose not to elaborate, because five seconds ago i realized that if i did indulge the thought, i'd be staying in a moment too long. all moments aren't created equal, you know. there are ugly moments as well as beautiful ones. feel it all. know when to get out. for if i stay in a moment too long, it ceases to be a moment and begins to be the past. 

right now, here is my whole mind: stop blogging and start working. get that web-writing project done and get a paycheck so you can get more projects and more paychecks. maybe you'll make enough money to take your son to the beach this summer after all. maybe you'll make enough to buy that mountain bike with the kiddie cart that rolls behind it. maybe you'll start a music festival for kids. maybe this is the beginning of everything you've wanted. 

this is a beginning.

Monday, June 9, 2014

pulse and possibility.

here on the pulse of this new day, you may have the grace to look up and out and say simply, very simply, with hope, good morning.
- excerpt from maya angelou, 1993 clinton presidential inauguration

good morning, as maya angelou cast it, is not a greeting but an imperative. it is the self saying to the self: this is a good morning. it is the self willing this day to be good.

this is no small task on some days.

and how, on some days, that small, simple phrase does require grace and hope. how that lovely phrase lies heavy like a stone on the floor of my belly, refusing the current that would lift it up and out my lips so i can hear myself say it. heavy so i know of its presence. heavy so i long for it to become a bubble instead, rising to the top.

there are days when it does indeed rise, more so now that my morning perspective has changed. these days, as i begin to shake off my sleep (if i could, i'd do it like my dog shakes off a bath—top of the head to tip of the tail), i hear schoolchildren shrieking as they play in the small yard outside my apartment while waiting for the bus; i see leaves trembling in my neighbor's tree as the wind slides past; i feel 55 pounds of pit bull sleeping by the bend in my knees. i am here, finally. we are here.

i've waited nearly three years for the ability to walk out my front door and take a walk, and it is marvelous—no less so despite the sloppy logistics of getting out the door and down the steps with a stroller full of toddler and a dog. my eyes and my mind marvel at the details: storybook victorians on my street that is imperfectly shaded by trees in almost every front yard; slouching college boys smoking marlboros on crumbling porches a few blocks east; the unimpressive dog park, usually empty, below the bridge that takes us into downtown; tattoo parlors, urban-style convenience stores, dirty-book shops with blacked-out windows, mothers in their late 30s wearing blunt bangs and platform boots, coffee shops, juice bars, and men who look at me as if i'm just another college girl.

mostly, i feel like the college girl i was when i last lived here a decade ago.

yesterday i ran into an old college friend while walking home from the park, and i told her as much: i feel young here, perfectly at home amidst the thirty-some-thousand college kids. she said something like, "ohhh i don't. i'll have to see how i feel." she just moved back too. at first i hoped that she would eventually feel what i do—because who wouldn't want to feel young like a college kid? then i realized, well, maybe a lot of people. so i hope she ends up feeling content, however that may be. 

when i walk around my neighborhood and the town, i remember, nearly precisely, who i was, how i felt, and what i did during my college years here. i'm still her ... save the addition of a few wrinkles, a heap of fatigue, better income, and a small human to nurture. my heart and my mind have remained steadfast: ever angsty and dreamy.

in conversations with my self or with friends, i used to proceed as if my heart and my mind were two parts of me with different agendas. it came naturally, perhaps further encouraged by an education thick with poetry and literature. now, actually quite recently, i've realized that when i speak of the heart, i'm actually speaking of feelings. feelings are complex ... and i smirk as i type those words, because complex is a miserable failure at expressing the truth of it. feelings can be guided by thought, and they can also be spontaneous. so how do i recognize the difference? and should i? i've spent most of my adult life trying to figure out how to weigh my thoughts against my feelings and vice versa. mental micromanagement is a thankless urge. dare i attempt to transcend it, to allow all the shapes and colors of my mind's productions to exist together.


what a beautiful word. diversion and deep breathing will help bring it to life. in practice this means i must stay busy and stay still. can i be my own guru? can i teach myself to stop pressing my nose against the glass of every moment and instead walk through the door and be in it?

i had a boyfriend a decade or so ago, a little red ant who always finds his way through the cracks in my consciousness, bringing me crumbs of memory and realization. my morrissey-haired singer-songwriter who called me snow bunny when i wore my grey, soft, fuzzy sweatsuit, which was often because it felt like wearing a cloud. a few days ago i walked past his college house, just a few blocks from my apartment. i looked up at the top-floor window to the bedroom where i once i presented his christmas/birthday gifts ... a beatles coffee-table book and something to do with a cell phone; i turned to the maple tree in the corner of the large lot and smiled, with a twinge of heartache, at the spot where my kaiser would lie, his chocolate fur blending with brilliant, warm fall leaves covering the yard. i remembered expectation. and how its weight eventually broke our backs. we were both too young to carry it.

life without expectation is impossible. the goal, then, is to be mindful of what to expect and when. i've been told often enough that i'm too hard on myself, at least by people who can see. all people are not seers. this is fine. all people can't fulfill every need of mine. i'm learning that slowly and painfully. even more slowly and painfully, i'm learning which things (a word i generally deign to use in all its nonspecificity) i can live with and can't live without. not much about me—or you, you, and you—is changeable. we are long formed, with an inch or two of wiggle room for adjustment—like this desk from where i'm currently typing, nestled in the only spot where it would fit in my dining room. its previous life was in my nanni's house as a sewing table, the kind where the machine hangs upside down underneath the lid waiting to be flipped upright and put to use. in flipping myself upright, i'd like to put expectation to better use: to expect forgiveness to flow from myself—to my self and to others.

today i awoke with good morning as a stubborn stone in my belly. i didn't bother to will it up and out. i let the morning and the afternoon be what they would. the hours were not kind to me today. i forgive them. i'll forgive myself too, for those unkind hours were not without provocation. i'll do it because it's the surest way to feel the pulse of this new day, growing older but still alive. what i have is now: here, in my own space that i waited so long and risked so much to have, among my own things, and with the only two creatures i am certain my love will never fail.

good evening.