We are in the deep shock of winter. So cold that one cannot go outside without being swaddled in down. The gullies on the side of the road are full of frozen water that shine like broken glass. I worry about the D. family. Our house is a place of warmth compared to their poor little shack. I look around at the vases f ull of tender-petalled flowers on the window sills, the stack of logs by the wood stove, heated floors upstairs – all this luxury when they have none. Yet it is not so transferrable.
Cleaning the winter grime from the small panes of glass on the bay window in the writer’s cottage led me to me compare the window design to the way we usually look at life – in segments. Glass is strengthened by cross bars. So, too, are human beings strengthened by dividing up reality into smaller segments which make it less threatening, easier to understand . We may think we are “big picture” people, but very few of us can maintain that gaze for very long.
Having lived in the South for a number of years now, I am no longer surprised by the routine perfection of daily living that has pretty much disappeared from everywhere else in the country: the seriously good soap and linen towels in guest bathroom, real monogrammed stationery for the thank you notes that Southern women are trained from birth to write after every thrown-together lunch or potluck supper. And during the Christmas season, a high percentage of the houses are transformed into tasteful backdrops for a Merchant Ivory film version of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”
Imagine my surprise then when at my friend, Wendy’s house for a holiday party, I was told that her magnificent Fraser fir in the Edwardian era bay window was a fake. “I got it at Walgreen’s” she said triumphantly.
I was astonished at how beautiful the tree looked in her Victorian era bay window. Could it be, now that Tasha Tudor is dead, that maybe it’s time to re-think authenticity and get real. Do I really need to spend every day worrying that the dish at the stump end of my tree is out of water again?
Still undecided, I went to my exercise class the following morning and overheard the woman on the treadmill next to mine telling her friend about the latest thing in home design: the Christmas tree closet. “What’s that?” I asked. “Alot of the newer homes have them” she said. “You just unplug your artificial tree, with all the lights and ornaments on it, stick it inside. and close the door until next December. You don’t even have to unscrew the branches.”
I kept on walking..and thinking . There are lots of things it would be nice to throw into a closet and not think about for long stretches of time. Christmas, for instance. It comes too early and often. Every other year would be just about right. Where is the closet for that?
Recently I bought, on line, a few second-hand journals or commonplace books by famous writers: W. H. Auden, E. M. Forster and Andre Gide, plus an analysis of eight women writers’ journals. I am finding the men heavy going – dry and unrevealing or, in the case of Forster, intimate in repulsive ways. But the women, even in their excerpted form, are much more vivid. One can learn something from them. That being said, Gide gave me something to think about: “what thwarts us and demands of us the greatest effort is also what teaches us the most.”
This morning, leaving the house to retrieve my own journal from the cottage, I entered into a day so fresh and cool, with the moon balanced above bare branches in the sky, air full of dampness from last night’s rain. The grieving lament of Wilder’s young girl in “Our Town” rose up in me. “Goodbye, beautiful winter mornings, with wet branches and bright green grass, and beloved dogs leaning against my knees as I write these words.”
Poets remind me of what my days should consist of when I am mistakely pursuing other things:
Small drops of rain catch and hold such light…
The great anxiety of my life
is that I will not see
these small lights in the water
or pay attention when they fall.
– Jeanne Lohmann (from Almanac of the Soul)
..and this from Mary Oliver:
I see or hear
that more or less
Yesterday it was a carpet of yellow leaves at the base of the Yoshino cherry tree , But it could be something as simple as a pile of parsley on a cutting board.
Sometimes, as happened the other morning on my walk, I catch a scent that lingers just long enough to remind me of how much I have forgotten. But it doesn’t linger long enough to tell me what it is. The odor of a silver drawer, the inside of a classroom, the sweet soup of grasses in the hot sun: these are smells that are better explained by children who are closer to them. How much we throw away in order to grow up.
Thinking about people who have stopped growing: it is as if they are dancing on the period at the end of the last sentence of their life story, having decided that there is nothing more to say or tell.
Yesterday, thinking about the emphasis in this culture upon accomplishing things to prove one’s worth, I thought about trees. Do we ask a redwood what it did today? The answer is “I was a redwood. And I spent all day being a redwood.”
Reading Steven Levine’s book last night, he writes of the five “hindrances” in our life. I recognized them all, particularly greed, sloth and anger. Yet I am becoming more awake and aware of how I am used by them, how they occupy my “territory” and then manipulate me into thinking that I am in control of them, like enemy forces whose flag I mistake for my own.
The swing and sweep of autumn is upon us. The trees move like glittering, hoop-skirted ball gowns in the wind. Oddly, being in the Berkshires last week didn’t knock me over. Having just one spectacular tree, like the Hodges maple on Howard Street, is more than enough, in fact, better. One can take it in, appreciate it, like a fully realized personality, without being distracted by others just as beautiful.Read More
A thought that came to me a few days ago in Massachusetts. Now that my book is finished, I have just as great a responsibility to lead a life of preparation and intensity as when I was still writing it. “This world is not conclusion; a sequel stands beyond…” (Emily Dickenson). The fate or course of it (the book) depends upon my actions now. Why I know or believe this I don’t know, but something fell into place when the thought occurred. Nothing is ever finished that cannot come undone.
At the James River Writers weekend, I sat on several panels with the poet, Tom Lux. He is a tremendously likeable, sympathetic person. I wrote down some of what he said:
On famously obscure poets:
“Some poets are more afraid of being understood than not because if they are understood you realize there’s not much there.”
“Any feeling, whether it’s painful of pleasurable, is a blessing. You honor it.”