Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Grandmother, Spider

October is in full regalia here in Michigan.  Golden leaves blanket the yard.  Spiders web everything; I found one spinning on the shower wall today.  Reading seems to be the only thing I can "accomplish" lately, which feels sad on two levels.  1) It's sad I feel the need to accomplish anything when I've just moved across the country with a baby and can finally locate all my socks, all my baby's socks, my posters, pictures, jewelry, and last but not least, the kosher salt.  Hello, accomplishment!  2) It's sad that I put so many things in front of writing some days, then wake and think &%$!!! Where have time and all my good intentions gone? 

I do have answers to that question.  Or excuses - whatever you want to call them.  We went away for the weekend, to the lovely city of Madison, WI.  I've been walking, practicing yoga, and finding my stomach muscles again, then layering those muscles with healthy bits of homemade treats whenever possible.  Earlier this month, I took Samantha on a southbound train (Delta) to visit her grandparents, her great-grandmother, family friends, and one delighted neighbor for whom she did not stop snorting with laughter the whole twenty-minute visit.  This was also how she greeted my mother, like a long lost roommate.  Does she remember the first two weeks of her life when my mom heated my coffee first thing every morning while I nursed a ravenous baby?  How she cooked chickens and pasta, sang lullabyes on the porch swing with only one little baby nose poking out of a blanket, accompanied her to the pediatrician, and did approximately 1,873 loads of laundry in our humble abode in Colorado?  I read something today that said grandmothers are the link between the past and the future.  Yes, that's right, I thought, thinking of the circle between my mother, Samantha, and I. 

Alas, I put off writing this blog post because I read Jonathan Franzen's memoir, The Discomfort Zone, and loved it.  I don't want this to turn into a Franzen fan site, but I kind of do want to turn it into a book club some days.  If I do that, though, I'm going to have to talk about something other than J. Fran, or no one will come to my parties anymore.  

I also read a great book called Show Your Work by Austin Kleon and he has this advice that on your way to getting your work out in the world: you should talk about your process.  Well.  The thought of doing this makes me very nervous, which is a weird response from someone absolutely obsessed with process. 

Maybe it's a case of not fully claiming who I am yet?  I.e. that person who one hundred percent likes to sit in circles, hold hands, and chant with strangers?  Transparency, openness, and all that?

One of my good friends regularly re-reads her journal and old letters.  If I did that, I would be paralyzed by the banality of all my former entries which read like co-worker chit-chat:  Should I make kale for dinner?  I feel bad I skipped yoga to watch old Arrested Development episodes, etc. etc.  In any case, you can read my old journals or you can take my word for it: I'm obsessed with process. 

With Austin Kleon in mind, therefore, I feel the need to come clean.  I'm working, okay?  By which I mean, I'm writing.  I just don't like to talk about it because 1) I'm superstitious.  Trotting out ideas before they are in the physical form of words feels almost the same as chucking them straight into the trash can.  2) I'm afraid I won't follow through.  If I don't follow through, I will feel like a jerk and a slob.  Since it's a fear of mine that I really am a jerk and a slob, I try to minimize the ways I discover this about myself.  I'd rather pretend I spent the whole day hanging with my baby and staring into trees than admit to my six crises around being productive enough.  And when I say productive enough, I mean as a writer.  Always.  I am never not working, even when I'm watching spiders in the shower.  In a way, I love this part about being an artist, because the job of an artist is simply to stay open, to take in the world around herself, make sense of it, see it for what it is, and someday give it back to itself in the form of a poem, a painting, pen to paper, or maybe just an honest conversation between two friends.

A couple years ago, when I took stock of the accomplishments in my life, I was delighted to find that my marriage topped the list.  I wasn't proud because I snagged a husband or anything weird like that (although being a married woman is a trip worth a collection of essays for sure).  I was proud because building a marriage is not unlike building a house, and keeping it straight and clean and safe against the elements is, to me, an honorable undertaking, and it is one I thoroughly enjoy.  

Without going down the righteous road of pride over a relationship (I recently joked that the first person to get a divorce is the person who writes a how-to book on marriage), what I'm trying to say is what I'm always trying to say: I am interested in the light on trees, the shape of my husband's front teeth, the pattern stamped on our living room rug, the pitch of my daughter's babbling voice, the way her face smells like cereal and pancakes even though she isn't eating "people food" yet.  I am interested in the moments that make up a day and how I feel about those moments as a human being.  My head is up my ass, for sure, but I like to believe that I'm also simply witnessing life sometimes and that some days, being witness to the day is enough.    

It's a fine balance, though, this yin and yang of being alive. I find myself exploring that balance all over again this season.  In September, I told my friend that plenty of my career's woes could have been solved if I had only kept on the paths I started down in my twenties.  Instead, in self-consciousness and fear, I dropped off a few dreams at the curb.  I'm circling back now to pick them up.  Maybe that is how it should be: is there any way to get to today's understandings, clear and true, without the long embarrassing road that leads us to them? 

Still, when I think ahead to the grandmother I want to be someday, the words I say to my still youngish self are: Keep Going.  You don't have to know what you are doing or how it is going to end.  You just have to keep going.  You can do it.  One foot in front of the other.  One word after the next.

And with that, like a baptism or an omen, I just spilled coffee all down my front.  Motherhood has made a klutz out of me.  Samantha sleeps across the room in her swing, a contraption I will keep until she turns eighteen, and still my hands cannot be trusted, as though they prepare me for our toddler days ahead, when the house will get wrecked and the one smashing dishes on the stone floor of the kitchen will be a blameless, toothless one. 

With ink on my hands and a heart on my sleeve,