- "I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy, permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." ~Jack London
Saturday, January 10, 2009
It occurred to me one day that I've never seen your handwriting. We've been friends for years, but I have no idea how you curve your C's, how you dot your i's, whether your L's slant ever so slightly to the left or right. Most people's handwriting I can recognize in an instant. I can catch a glimpse of a word on an envelope buried beneath bills and magazines and know who I've received a card from before checking the return address. It is hardly what one would call a super power, but it is a skill I take some odd satisfaction in having. It is a matter of experience and a matter of paying attention to detail, something I've grown fondly accustomed to. Knowing how you arch your O's makes me feel closer to you.
Even as a little girl I had some strange fascination with the mail. I used to force my family to play a game of it with me. I made them each a mailbox to place outside their rooms in the hopes that we would all leave each other little notes and gifts and things to make us smile. I don't remember anything about what I placed in or removed from those boxes (I'm quite sure my parents appeased my need for surprises for about a day before hoping I would lose interest), but I remember the feeling of excitement I felt each time I checked it, each time I heard my mother's footsteps outside my door and the rustling of something happening. It was the same feeling I got hearing the bulk of letters drop from the slot in the center of our door onto our hardwood floors, knowing almost certainly there was nothing for me, but still hoping. Always hoping.
My mother had taken me to see the movie Little Women in the theatre. It wasn't our usual movie theatre. It was one of those old converted buildings, the kind of place that showed one or two indie movies at a time and had an audience of about eight people per showing. It was the kind of theatre that made the movie going experience worthwhile, a kind of old romance feel to it with it's high ceilings and assigned seating and red curtain to open and close the film. There was even an intermission and everything. And it was the perfect setting to watch Jo open her house-shaped mailbox and discover one perfect pear left for her by Laurie.
It is not often that I can point to a moment and say there, but there, before that enormous screen, my nine year old eyes wide in the dark, was the moment I fell in love with the idea of mail. Silly, I know, but also kind of wonderful. It was also kind of the beginning of my life as a writer, and as a correspondent, and as a friend.
In fact, the first poem I ever wrote was about the mail. I was in the fifth grade and reading my way through the books of the first poet I ever loved, Shel Silverstein. Inspired by the folly and the delight it brought eleven year old me, I wrote a short rhyming poem about hoping to get a cow in the mail. I read it aloud as an audition piece for our school play of The Golden Goose, and later received the part of The Golden Goose, so I knew, even then, it was the best poem EVER. I knew, even then, as foolish as that poem seems now, that language would be an important part of my life. I was a writer.
From there I fell in love with Emily Dickinson (who I consequently read as audition pieces for our seventh and eighth grade plays), then Walt Whitman, then Shakespeare, Emily Bronte and Jane Austen. And although I was never a very good student, always neglecting the work required of me, in my free time I secretly soaked them. I read and reread their words. I romanticized the life of writers, picturing them sitting in gardens and fields of sunflowers, writing letters to their loved ones, capturing emotions and experiences on the page. Immortalizing their love, their worlds, themselves in this elegant and meaningful manner.
I had various pen pals over the years - my British cousin, some friends from my first sleep-away camp experience - all of whom I eventually lost touch with over the years, but whose letters I still have saved. But my first real novel-length heartfelt letter was written my senior year of high school, when everything seems sentimental and bittersweet, when you are certain you will both be friends with those people forever and never see them again. The second I dropped it into the mailbox, I doubted it, regretted it. I called my friend and warned him.
A few days later I heard the familiar plop of paper on the hardwood floor and sauntered over to survey the collection. I saw the return address first. And even now, whenever I remove that letter, still in it's original envelope, from it's place among my treasured possessions, my heart skips as wildly and lovingly as it did in that first moment.
And like watching that scene in Little Women, it is not often that I can point to a moment and say there, but there, standing before the mail slot on my front door, I knew that all I wanted was to make people feel as I felt right then. I wanted my loved ones to know that they were just that, loved, worthy of the time it took to sit down and express word after word, page after page, exactly how deep my love for them was.
So I started writing letters, sending birthday cards, Christmas cards, little notes just to check in. And although it's faded a bit over the years, with email and facebook and the knowledge that people are not so easily lost, I still try my best to reach out. I try my best to embrace opportunities for expression, because in the long run, there are those few that I've fallen out of touch with. I think about them sometimes and feel that little ache of loss within me until I remember that they have somewhere, folded up and probably stowed away, word after word, page after page, my promises to love and remember them always. I take comfort in knowing that I am fulfilling such a promise, and I hope they do as well. Always hoping.
Hoping even now, that although I do not know your handwriting, you are comforted by the sight of mine, laying on your coffee table beneath bills and magazines, reminding you that you are loved.
Sunday, January 04, 2009
And so it begins.
Another year. Another chance at a new life. Another opportunity to be the kind of person I really want to be, living the kind of life I really want to be living. Another chapter. Another first sentence. Another rising of the curtains. Another first breath.
I have been awaiting its arrival. Possibly more so than any other year. I have been building up lists of goals and promises and things I want for myself, both the tangible, and more importantly, intangible. Things that are visible and easy to track the progression of, and more importantly, things that are invisible to the eye, things that can only be felt - the building of character, the expansion of mind, the deepening of the soul.
If I were to assign a title to this upcoming year, I would call it "foundations." It will be a year devoted to hard work, to practice, to trial, to missteps, to repeated attempts, to planning. It will be a year devoted to exploring just how much I am capable of. And I have high hopes about my discoveries. I know things will be difficult, but I invite the madness in. I have goals to reach and I don't want to waste any more of my time considering quixotic possibilities. It's taken me so long to understand what I want in this life. Now all I want is to focus, to work, to do a little less dreaming about what could be and to do a little more acting upon what will be. I don't have high aspirations. I'm not asking for much. I just see a simple future in which I am simply happy and I recognize the steps I need to take to get me there. I'm ready now for THAT part of my life.
There is so much to be said for living each day as though it is your last. It is a beautiful, fiery, passionate philosophy that sparks something within the very core of me. But it is also the excuse I use for running from the things I fear, from things when they get tough, from things I may not succeed at. It is the excuse I use to avoid facing my life. Because the truth is, even though I have done some truly impulsive and wonderful things, things I wouldn't ever want to take back, things that have made days so perfect that I would have considered them worthy enough to be my last, mostly, my days are not brilliant. Most of my days are not lived up to their potential. Most of my days are wasted sitting around waiting for life to happen. It is not a matter of choosing one lifestyle over another. It is a matter of hiding.
I'm so tired of hiding, of waiting for things to change on their own. The best adventures of my life have been journeys that I've leapt into. The best adventures of my life have been filled with risk and sacrifice. And so I leap into 2009 head on, knowing full well that I will spend most of it sacrificing time and sleep and probably most of my sanity, but risking the frustration and stress and potential for failure for the opportunity to be who I want in this life. So that if this day turns out not to be my last, or the next day, or the day after that, I'll be able to look back on this year and know that it was all worth it, in the end.
And so, it begins.