- "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, June 27, 2009
Whether they were coming or going I couldn't tell. I was too far back to overhear their conversation. They plopped their heavy oversized backpacks on the floor and stood at the front looking tired but excited, the well worn expressions of traveling strewn across their faces. It is a look I know well, a look I could be comfortable wearing for the entirety of my life.
I found myself staring. Her wild unkempt red hair fell so naturally around her freckled face. For a moment I thought that I knew her and searched the catalog of my memory trying to place her within some context, but she wasn't there. Instead there were a series of girls who looked like her, radiating that same sense of unbridled passion for life, girls who lived their lives outside of the conventional rules, girls who wrote poetry and traveled the world and wore their hearts on their sleeves. In a way I did know this stranger who had stepped onto the train. She was the ideal of who I have always longed to be. Or at least, she looked like her.
I was five when I first saw Anne of Green Gables and consequently fell in love with the poetry of life. I couldn't imagine wanting to be anyone but Anne, so fiery and creative and unwittingly beautiful. I adored the way she spoke and fought and spent all day dreaming of things she read in books. I adored her sadness and likewise her hope. I adored her imagination. I adored her ability to be so deeply moved by the world around her. Even at the age of five I felt we were kindred spirits, to borrow her own expression. I too wanted to grow up to be brave and smart and delighted by small beauties. I too longed to be impetuously adventurous. I even spell my middle name Anne with an "e."
That summer my parents took us to Prince Edward Island and we visited the infamous Green Gables. They bought me a little straw hat with two red braids attached and I wore it around for weeks, pretending to be Anne. For a little while, I felt as beautiful and lovable as the girl I admired most. Sometimes I would quote her, not ever really understanding what any of it meant, just knowing that it sounded pretty. These are the things I look back on now and understand more than ever that it is in me to love language.
It was a few years later before I discovered Pippi Longstocking, and while I never admired her with quite the same grandeur as I did Anne, she quickly became another hero of mine. She was fun and inspiring. She brought joy to those around her. She was red-haired and freckled, quirky and assertive. She could do anything, and did do anything, and I loved her for that. I loved that she was strong, both physically and emotionally, and I loved that she created magic everywhere she went. Even after all of these years, I still believe in the possibility of such magic.
All of my childhood heros were unconventional characters, people who dared to be different, people who weren't afraid to be themselves, people who stood out among the ordinary. Not much has changed. These are the same traits I look for in the people I choose to surround myself with now. The people I love most in this world are the ones who inspire me to feel impassioned about life. They are the creators of dreams. They are the believers of magic. I look for such passion everywhere.
And so I grew up associating red hair and freckles with the fervor of the human spirit. I longed to look that way because I longed to be that way, so ablaze, so alive. And when I saw that girl step through the doors of the train, her red hair glowing in the soft afternoon light, I found myself green with envy, full of the familiar jealousy I feel whenever I come across such an archetype of my fictional heroines. It is not just their beauty. It is their ability to transmit their zest for life without having to speak a single sentence. It is that they represent poetry and hope and individuality and joy. It is that they innately express that which has taken me tens of thousands of words to even begin to explain.
Monday, June 22, 2009
It seems as though I am always leaving the door open. I ask you over and over again to come in. In winter I have saved you a seat by the fire and made you a cup of tea. In summer I have turned the AC on and saved you a rainbow popsicle. In rain I have offered to share my shelter with you. In sunshine I have offered you a place in my garden among the roses.
But instead you stand on the front porch of my heart and over and over again decline. You are forever just outside the door as if to reassure yourself that if someone were to ask, you could tell them that you were there for me. But it is not enough to just be there, hovering outside the boundaries of comfort and love. It is not enough to stand beside me without knowing what's happening inside, my head, my heart, my soul. It is not enough to simply be invited in. You have to step through the threshold for it to count.
Instead you stand outside my door and tell me how good the winter air is for your heart, how good the hot summer sun is for your head, how soothing the torrential rainfall is for the soul. You tell me I am the foolish one for not knowing that. You tell me I am not smart enough to understand. You tell me I am not worthy of your company inside.
Perhaps you are right. After all I am the foolish, stupid girl who keeps asking you in. I am the one who keeps making an extra cup of tea and saving an extra popsicle. I am the one sitting beside an empty chair. I am the one who keeps expecting things to change even though they never have, even though you have made it clear they never will. I am the one silly enough - or hopeful enough - to think I could someday be worthy.
Meanwhile your popsicle is melting. Your tea is getting cold. My hope for us is fading. You stand outside my window and scream that brilliance is a burden I am lucky not to have to bear. You think that you are explaining why it is difficult for you to come in, but all that I hear is that I am not invited out. Out into this world where you live, among the brilliant and articulate and successful and accomplished. And so I hide further and further away, inquiring over and over again if you could just come in and sit with me a while, tell me about your life, listen to me about mine.
From the other room I hear your voice on the answering machine without even having to get up. "You don't know a thing about poetry. You're writing would be better if you simplified it. Get to the point" you say. So I stand up. I walk to the door. I listen as it clicks behind me. I lock you out.
And for the first time in my life you are impressed by my succinct actions. For the first time you see I can be as cold hearted and hot headed and poetically direct as you. But of course by this point, the door has already closed and you realize that it is already too late to tell me of your brilliant discovery.
Friday, June 19, 2009
Summer In A Small Town
By Tony Hoagland
Yes, the young mothers are beautiful,
with all the self-acceptance of exhaustion,
still dazed from their great outpouring,
pushing their strollers along the public river walk.
And the day is also beautiful - the replica 19th-century paddle-wheeler
perpetually moored at the city wharf
with its glassed-in bar and grill
for the lunch-and-cocktail-seekers
who come for the Mark Twain Happy Hour
which lasts as long as the Mississippi.
This is the kind of town where the rush hour traffic halts
to let three wild turkeys cross the road,
and when the high school music teacher retires
after thirty years
the movie marquee says, "Thanks Mr. Biddleman!"
and the whole town comes to hear
the tuba solos of old students.
Summer, when the living is easy
and we store up pleasure in our bodies
like fat, like Eskimos,
for the coming season of privation.
All August the Ferris wheel will turn
in the little amusement park,
and screaming teenage girls will jump into the river
with their clothes on,
right next to the No Swimming sign.
Trying to cool the heat inside the small towns
of their bodies,
for which they have no words;
obedient to the voice inside which tells them,
"Now. Steal Pleasure."
Thursday, June 18, 2009
I forgot my Ipod yesterday. Lately I've been using my lunch break to go for walks around the neighborhood. It's been nice to get out during the day, to relieve some of the day's stress, to reflect on the hour, the day, the life I'm living in general. I've made different musical mixes each day in an effort to soak in new music, walking in rhythm to the beat of the songs. It's nice to have a soundtrack sometimes.
Sometimes not, as I discovered yesterday, walking in the middle of unfrequented streets. It was so blissfully quiet that I couldn't help but hear each step on the pavement, that I couldn't help but listen to my thoughts. What I realized, more than anything, is that I am always writing. And while most of what I promised myself I'd remember later I quickly forgot, the knowledge that I spent that divine hour writing in my head the most beautiful words I have ever written is enough to be grateful for.
I realized how much more I noticed without the distraction of music, how the trees bowed toward me as I walked by, the smell of the air thick with the soft finality of a storm, the depth of color in the purple flowers (I don't know what they were), so elegant and lush that it became impossible not to feel flawed in comparison. These were all things I had missed the day before, walking down the exact same street at the exact same time of day, concentrating on some poetic artist's lyrics instead of the poetic natural life wafting all around me. It was a welcomed change.
I remember coming home and being asked about the culture shock. "Having a car makes you feel isolated?" My mother questioned. I understood her confusion at such a statement. In truth I know that the ability to drive realistically broadens my life. I can hop in my car and go wherever I chose. I can drive great distances I would never otherwise reach. On any given day I drive from the neighborhood of my house to the neighborhood of my work to the neighborhood of my school and back again. I am all over the city and it is the freedom of having a vehicle to get me there as I choose.
But in the day to day, my favorite places in the world have been the ones where I didn't need a car. They have been places with easy and accessible public transportation or places so small when everything one could ever need was in walking distance. And if you have ever spent time in a place so confined and self sufficient, you understand the importance of having lived that sort of life. Somehow it emphasizes what is important, what is essential, and whatever does not fall into that category becomes not only unessential, but superfluous and silly. If I can walk to food and a place to buy writing supplies and return to shelter, perfectly fulfilled and content, then why do I ever really need anything else?
It is something else too, something that I meant more at the time. It is the lack of communication between people. People don't generally smile and say hello when they pass one another in cars. Some people don't when they're walking either, but I do. And I do even more so in other countries where people have spent their lives walking by each other and saying hello. It's such a simple joyous act and I spend a lot of the time wondering why it is not more often done. I wonder where that fear of reaching out comes from. I revel in the happiness that comes from connecting with a stranger, if even for a moment, the way the woman who sits outside my local grocery store always comments on the weather. "Yes, it IS surprisingly cold" I say and we both feel better that someone has taken the time to hear us.
I think it is in all of us to want to be heard, and that's really no great secret. So why are we not screaming from the hilltops? Why are we not writing our stories, filling the streets with our art, impregnating the air with our music? Why are we not listening? To each other, to ourselves. Why is every house not a different shade of color and every person not a walking expression of themselves? Why is it so easy to become so much like everybody else, to be quieted with fear and self doubt, to fade away into a life already set?
I am not any better. I conform just like everyone and I'm not going to pretend to be above it, but listening to the weight of each footstep on the pavement made me feel somehow unique and important and big and small in the grandest meanings of the words. Walking makes me feel part of the world because I am who I am, without the ever present thoughts of material things and judgement and the heavy supposed-tos of obligation. It is enough just to exist in a world forever living. It is enough just to notice the poetry of your thoughts.
Monday, June 15, 2009
He lowers his umbrella so that it's upside down. Behind him she tilts her umbrella forward. He giggles as the rain falls from her umbrella onto his unsuspecting head. The sun is still casting her light behind the clouds as though she refuses to give up the fight. A crack of thunder. Lightening. The world is brighter than it's been all day. I sit on the front porch, safe and dry, watching the every changing flowers revel in the light and rain that feeds them. And then everything is quiet and still for a moment except for the trickling of rain. It is perfect. It is spring.
Friday night we sat here and talked about everything. We hadn't planned to spend the night together, but it happened anyway. Sometimes those unplanned conversations are better than any of great importance. We talked about work, about family, about mutual friends, about the purpose of life, about where we've come from and where we need to go, about where we are now, about the gratitude that comes from that realization. Four hours later we both wondered where the time had gone.
It's been over a year since we bought this house together and still I am amazed by the rightness of that bold move. It is easy to worry about a choice like that. Will money be a problem? Will we continue to get along? Will my consistent wanderlust lead to regret? But thirteen months later, I find myself more certain than ever that this is home. I love every inch of it. I love my roommate who has become my sister, who I have yet to ever fight or bicker with. I love sitting on this porch watching the neighbors speak to one another from their porches, listening to the greedy earth soak up the soft rain. I sigh in contentment for the life I am living.
Earlier today I went into a toy store to buy some bracelets one of my students brought in today and I simply had to have. It was a quaint store, the kind where every item on the shelf has been carefully and lovingly selected. Immediately I was surrounded by pieces from my own childhood that I had neglected to remember. Silly little crafts I had begged my parents for, old puzzles, decorated pencils and pens that made me wish I was a better artist. I took my items to the register and the woman laughed. "Yes, sadly, these are for me" I said. She smiled. "Oh, you don't have to explain it to me, I own a toy store!" She exclaimed. Could anything in life be happier?
Perhaps only that the sun has won her fight in the few minutes it's taken me to write this. The rain has already gone. The neighbors have emerged back out into the street. The birds sing in triumph and the raindrops tap lightly from my roof in rhythm with a child's basketball being dribbled a few doors down. Bounce. Bounce. Bounce. The beating of the universe pulses on.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
I chose French because I consider it to be one of the more elegant languages. Perhaps because I learned what little I know of it from such an elegant teacher. I think it looks pretty, poised upon the page, hanging in the air after it has slipped from soft worldly lips. There is something so remarkable about languages, about the availability of something that feels so secretive, that infinitely extends an understanding of the universe. If I were a better student, I would take the time to learn more. If I had known sooner what I know now, I would have done a better job of paying attention. I suppose it's never too late.
But I also chose French because it is cryptic to those who don't know it. I wanted to have those words that mean so much to me without having to explain it over and over again. The words themselves, in any language, are cryptic to those who don't live it. So when I decided two years ago to get "Write your life. Live your writing." tattooed on my foot, it was about something more than the alluring factor of coolness attributed to permanently decorating oneself in ink. I needed in some way to remind myself that I am a writer. I needed in some way to remind myself that my purpose in life is simple. I needed in some way to be able to see that one clear thought when the rest of the world seemed foggy. "Oh right," I can think "it is just that easy to find my way back."
And when people ask me what it means, the reaction is almost always the same. I hear a lot of "oh, cool" or "well, that's different," the way people may respond when you get a bad haircut or have made some other seemingly inappropriate decision. Their response is code for "it's okay, you can always cover it up." The thing that strikes me about myself in those moments is how little this response bothers me. In fact, I may prefer it to having to dive into some pseudo-intellectual conversation about writing with people who haven't written a word outside of their obligated assignments. Which is fine, if they haven't, but they're not going to understand the words unless they have. They're not going to understand what writing means to someone like me.
What those words mean to someone like me, is everything. My ever supportive friend J. once tried to decode them. "So, you write what you want to do and then you write what you end up doing?" She asked. Well, sort of. Even now, after all this time, I have difficulty explaining it, which only means I have a long way to go before I'll ever be anything close to a good writer. The closest I can come to articulating the meaning is to express that writing and living are one in the same for me. I never feel more alive than when I write. I am never more myself than when I write. And that is not a fact, but simply a feeling that has dwelled inside of me since the day I picked up my first book of poetry and understood what it meant to love words.
I do write what has happened to me, what is happening even as I write, but I also write about what could happen if things were different or if things continued to stay the same. I write about who I was, and who I am, and who I could be. I write about my own life but also about the concept of life, the eternal life that came before and will continue on long after I am gone. I write about my own experiences but also experiences I have yet to have, or will never have, and how those too, play a role in each life.
I have had more than one friend watch me write in my journal and ask me about what I am writing, curious and anxious perhaps that there are some dark and secret thoughts lingering on the pages. And I do write about the people in my life, the good and the bad, the awe I have for them and sometimes the venting about them that needs to be expressed. But mostly I think they would find my journals to be quite dull. Generally they are about the way the sound of a chirping bird delights me, or the way the soft warmth of the sun has effected my sentence structure. They are what you are reading here. My writing is not a collection of my daily happenings, but of my daily thoughts. Sometimes they are one in the same. Sometimes not. The point is to keep a record of who I am in any given moment, and so I put myself on the page.
And that's what it means to write your life and to live your writing, for me anyway. It means that while it often feels frustrating to be passionate and deep and wise in my writing and not in my "real life," I am still essentially all of those things. They are not separate lives. They are one. They are all pieces of me. Even those moments of inarticulate ramblings that make me cringe in retrospect only act as fuel to be written about later, to be that much closer to understanding who I am. Writing is cathartic, but it is also ineffably magical and beautiful and essential, like life itself. And if you have ever sat with nothing more than a journal and a pen while the world blazes and hums around you, you know what I mean. You too, understand that sweet secret.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
"No!" I screamed from across the playground. He froze in shock. Immediately I regretted the harshness in my tone. I called him over and he approached me slowly, clinging to the branch in his hands. "The reason I tell you not to pull the branches is not to be mean, but because that tree is alive, just like you and me, and it's not okay to hurt it. It would be like someone coming over and taking off your finger and that wouldn't be fun now would it?" I smiled and he laughed, offering up the leaf covered sprig as though it were an olive branch. "But I got it for you," he said, understanding the irresistibility of such innocent sweetness. I hugged him and he went about his way chasing a butterfly.
And I understood then, perhaps more clearly than ever, why I love to teach preschool. It is not just that the children are cute and sweet and funny and insatiably curious, although they are of course all of those things, but it is because they remind me of that part of myself that might otherwise go unnoticed. They remind me that it is our purpose to be insatiably curious. They remind me to be in awe of nature and airplanes and stories and music. They remind me to look and listen and see the world around me as though that is all there is. They remind me that I still believe in magic. I really do feel that way about trees.
Each day I am reminded of why I love what I do. Most of all, it's that I love it. It's that I know deep in my heart that if money was unnecessary, I would still continue to do it. And really, how many people can say that about their jobs? The thing is, it's not just my job, although I refer to it as "work," which it ultimately is. But it is equally a large part of my definition and an even larger part of my happiness. It is the work of my life, like learning, like exploring, like loving. It is what I would dream of doing if I had chosen to fulfill a different dream. Surely there is nothing more rewarding than having a child repeat something that you've taught them. I did that. Just as my teachers and parents are the reason I am who I am now. And the cycle continues. And it's lovely.
Which is not to say there are not bad days. It can be the most frustrating thing in the world to calm 20 screaming four year olds, to get them to sit and listen and do what you've asked of them. Some days I lose my patience. Some days they lose theirs. But we get through it together. We work as a team. I understand that they are also my friends and therefore deserve every ounce of my compassion and empathy and devotion and love.
I used to consider this one of my weaknesses as a teacher, blurring those lines between friendship and authority. I laugh at things I shouldn't. I let things slide that should perhaps be addressed. I too, would rather play sometimes than work. But the more I teach, the more comfortable I become with the balance I've struck. I watch the more professional teachers and wonder where the love is, where the joy can possibly come from without the laughter, without the silliness. I wonder why anyone would want to do such difficult, often unappreciated, work unless they were having fun.
And I felt this way today, a day filled with highs and lows, a day that reminded me that in the end, I am where I want to be. I am grateful to spend my days feeling needed and happy and loved. I am grateful to be having so much fun. And so I joined in on the chase for the butterfly and together we waved goodbye and wished him well as he fluttered off into some unknown of which we can only imagine.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
To say "it's been so long" seems obvious and unnecessary, and so I won't. It's not what I want to write about anyway. My journal is filled with this blog's missing months and eventually I will fill in the gaps. Or perhaps not. Perhaps the void is exactly as it should be.
What I have discovered so far is that dwelling on the empty spaces is pointless. What I mean is, life continues on. The empty space ahead inevitably becomes filled and the empty space behind has already come and gone. The surrounding emptiness is an illusion created by the internal emptiness which it turns out, is an illusion created by self doubt. We are never as shallow or hollow as we may feel. Those empty spaces inside our hearts are simply opportunities for love.
I'll admit that I've forgotten this more than once in my life. It's easy to concentrate on what's missing instead of what's already there. I spend so much time trying to better my existence that I often forget to accept it as it is. I spend so much time dreaming that I forget to wake up. I spend so much time trying to feel alive that I forget I'm already living. This is it. Right now. Every breath that I take is another second of my life, ebbing and flowing into the next. And that's all life needs to be sometimes, just the coming and going of breathing. Sometimes that's enough to be grateful for. Why shouldn't it be?
It is a part of me to always notice the little things, but slowly I am remembering how to really see them, how to feel them, how to fill the mirage of my heart's empty space with them until there is not an ounce of room left barren. Even now I am collecting as I sit on my porch inhaling the sweet scent of the impending storm, listening to the neighborhood dogs announce it's arrival, feeling the soft winds rise and fall with my chest as I breathe. My lungs fill with the miracle that is air, that is life. My heart fills with these seconds, with this gladness.
What I have discovered so far is that every one of us are both ordinary and extraordinary all at once. Life can be whatever we want it to be, but life is also already magnificent just as it is. Life is already happening. We are already participating whether we realize it or not. What I mean is, realize it. Cherish each breath. Smell. Taste. Listen. Hear. Touch. See. There are no empty spaces. Beauty is everywhere.
It is easy to feel trapped by relationships, by money, by work, by responsibility. It is easy to feel stuck in life, but I think we trap ourselves more than life traps us. There are always choices to be made - perhaps not easy ones, or even right and wrong ones, but choices nonetheless. We aren't ever really stuck as much as we are unwilling to move. There's a difference. There are ways to improve - grand gestures that forever change the course of things, but also small, seemingly insignificant decisions that cultivate our very existence. Stop and stare at the moon. Hug someone before they need to ask for it. Refuse an umbrella and get soaked in a storm, as I did this morning, as I am better for having done.
The point is, I have written over and over that I'm making the choice to live, that I'm participating in my life, that I want to be alive. But that choice has already been made for me. I continue to breathe whether I am out changing the world or hiding away from it. Life continues on. What I have discovered so far is that no matter what I want the future to hold, no matter how I wish to change the past, my life is just as it should be. I am just as I should be in it. And it is beautiful.