Friday, January 4, 2019

Jewel Box

The Jewel Box is a glorified greenhouse tucked into an odd corner of an urban park.  It costs a dollar to enter, and the price is right- there is a reason it is not numbered among the park's main attractions.  You enter the greenhouse and find...a greenhouse.  Plus toilets, a drinking fountain, and an scattering of sad white chairs that scream"busy wedding venue."

But in winter, on a weekday during the daytime, it is quiet and light and warm and smells of blooming.

I write this post to attest to the payment of my dollar.  The requisitioning of my white chair.  My open eyes, my breath.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

My Time

Is everyone at my stage of life this jealous of their time?  In a burst of irony, I spent 15 minutes yesterday penning an enraged screed in response to a Target returns department customer survey, railing against their policy of UPS drop off.  Really, Target, really?  You force me to take 25-30 minutes out of my day to print out a label, pack up my item, and drive to a UPS store and back, all to return an item you shipped to me damaged?  Your error, not mine?????

The fact that I can still summon an instantaneous, righteous blaze of anger about this speaks less to the petty injustices of late-stage capitalism and more to how scarce a resource time seems to me now, that any unwanted demand on it must be met with full-scale resistance.

I must now take a caesura to feed the baby.

***

I'm back.   I am only able to come back because I have taken today off.  If I had not taken today off, I would not have been able to start this post, let alone finish it, and I would have had to farm out feeding the baby.

I wonder if this is an American affliction.  Do people in other developed countries, which ascribe more cultural value to leisure, and less to work and motherhood, feel less vicious about their time?  

I know for certain it is a female problem, insofar as it is a burden that falls disproportionately on women.  When I look at my husband and all the things he doesn't have to deal with (most cleaning, most meal planning, all finances, taxes, any major life decision, any research regarding major and minor life decisions or medical conditions, all research and hiring regarding home repairs and household acquisitions, buying clothes and kid stuff, presents, birthdays, doctor's appointments, making sure we have toilet paper), I think that must be nice.  

I also wonder what I would do with more time if I had it.  I have some inkling, because the nature of part of my work is cyclical, so I have periods in which the onslaught of the demands on my time relaxes slightly, as well as periods in which the inundation is furious I just try to close my eyes and think of England.

But when I do have slightly more time, I definitely waste a good portion of it.  I putter.  I fuss.  I contemplate changing careers and meal planning and uprooting my life and cleaning the toilet.  I read back page articles on New York real estate and follow Internet rabbit holes to learn what kind of rabbit I am, or how to make my peace with cheese.

I'm also creative, in a way I'm unable to be when my life is stretched like a drum head over my allotted hours.  I might write, or plan workshops, or invite over a friend.  I might take a new route home, or go someplace I've never been.  But I simply have no space to make space most of the time.

Hence my rage against UPS drop off.  I want my time to be mine to waste.

I am sorry that it has come to this; I'm not sure how to fix it.

Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year's Eve

This time, as the year's last day scrapes up against its successor, I can't get past the word scrape, with its trail of blood and skin.

I have left both behind in 2018.  And a lot more: my last birth, the last time I'll hold another being so gingerly, a degree or two of mental acuity, waves of regret.

I'm starting to feel my life closing up on me, which is what makes the exercise of bidding farewell to one year and greeting another so doleful this time around.  I am reluctant to sum up my accomplishments,  because I am afraid they are dwindling.  I am reluctant to spell out my hopes, because I'm having trouble summoning them.

It has been alright, heretofore, to stagger from year to year under the weight of my responsibilities; now,  I'm beginning to think I've been frittering my life away, and that I will waste, similarly, the decade or two I have left compos mentis.

(Autocorrect insists upon "composure mantis," which I'm sure I'll become soon enough.)

The person I want to talk to about this is my father, and he is, for that purpose and many other purposes, gone.

2019: Maybe it's the year to ask for nothing, to demand nothing of myself or the world. To observe as I can, remember what I can, be as I have to be.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Dwindle

Never having been pretty, I am not finding my recession into the invisibility of middle age to be particularly troubling.  I have wrinkles- so what?  I've had other imperfections longer.  People look past me- so what?  They always did.

But my mind is also dimming, and I am struggling with this decline even more than I imagined I might.  Smarts have been the bedrock of who I am.  And I hadn't even realized the extent to which my intelligence gifted me with competence and confidence.  For years, I have believed that I could do almost anything I put my mind to- from working as a feature writer on zero experience, to penning a romance novel, to leading workshops.  I have believed I could do anything because, in large part, I could.

I have read that the brain changes of Alzheimer's begin in one's thirties.  I feel them.

When I was running meetings at the coop in my twenties, calling on individuals in the order in which they had raised their hands, I used to be able to track a mental roll of twenty or more names.  Now I'm lucky if I can remember three digits in a row.  I can't recall the name of that eighth reindeer (Google reveals that it's Comet), or whether or not my good friend discovered the sex of her baby in advance the first time around, or the name of the acquaintance who recently committed suicide.  I fish for words when I write, and when I go back to edit, I discover humiliation: missing articles, bungled verbs, iffy comparisons.

This Christmas, I mailed my in-laws' presents to myself.

In short, I can no longer be relied upon.  And I have always, always been able to rely on myself.

I accept this because I must, because there is no other option than acceptance.

But it is painful.  Who am I without my intelligence?  No one I particularly care for.  I suppose the challenge will lie in coming to do so.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

2018 in BOOKS!

This was the year I ducked Proust.

Ducking Proust makes one only slightly less insufferable than reading Proust, so I suppose my dodge  falls somewhere between a black mark and a minor point of pride.

I did intend to read Proust.  I had a fabulous plan, undertaken in 2016, of marching through one volume In Search of Lost Time per year, thus gilding my slog into middle age with a snail's trail of self-satisfaction.

I did try.  I tend to turn to Proust on airplanes: his sumptuous spirals of self-indulgence pair well with airline peanuts.  But I didn't fly as much this year. And when I did, there were so many other things to read!

Goodreads tells me I read 50 books I'll admit to this year (and counting).  I hated a greater share than usual, but I loved more of them, too.  Winnowing the 50 to a handful was unexpectedly painful, like returning your tray table to its upright and locked position.  You've been flying!  Then, all in a rush, the clouds retract and the sky slinks back into itself; the earth slaps your ass and your cell phone wails.

But never mind; here are the books!

Surprise!

In I am, I am, I am, Maggie O'Farrelll chronicles her 17 brushes with death.  I expected snorey literary navel gazing.  I got something utterly alien yet wildly convincing, like a curse word you didn't know you needed.

Short fiction is ALIVE!

A zombie shuffling from its grave, short fiction devoured me this year.  I really do hate short fiction.  It's like being served half a can of tomato juice when you know nobody else will drink the other half.  But two of my very favorite books this year were short story collections, Lauren Groff's stunning Florida and Curtis Sittenfeld's You Think It, I'll Say It.  These are full cans of juice, my friends. FULL CANS OF JUICE.

Soulmates!

I didn't know I had a soulmate!  He is Jay Fitger, professional Crabby Old Man (English professor) and the hero (villain) of Julie Schumacher's epistolary novel Dear Committee Members, which is told entirely through letters of recommendation.  For sheer pleasure, this one took (was?) the cake.

Work!

So I read two really excellent novels about work this year.  One was Aja Gabel's string quartet novel, The Ensemble, which I almost didn't read because I work in music, and working in a field tends to inure you to its beauty, or at least to its poetry. You need ignorance for poetry, and nothing burns off the ineffable faster than filing a Schedule C.  The writing about music in this one wasn't as bad as writing about music usually is, and the novel's treatment of time- more specifically the evolution and devolution of working and romantic relationships over time- feels bang-on.  I also loved Allegra Goodman's The Chalk Artist, which concerns itself deeply with interplay between work and identity, and is much better than I just made it sound.

You must read this!

If you haven't read Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother, you should.  Right now.  Trust me, Proust will wait.



Saturday, October 20, 2018

Saturday

Saturdays are for snoozing and schlepping, but also for the staging of pocket-sized rebellions.

It begins with the 5:40 AM alarm, which I do not set.  The absence of this alarm makes my morning a spitball, a wandering pitch I must keep in view.  Sometimes I wake up at 4:00 and read novels in bed.  Sometimes I wake up at 7:00 and roll back over until 7:15.  And sometimes I wake up precisely at 5:40 AM, my brief flicker of insurrection drowned in the dark sea of routine.  (Add one baby and there's no telling.)

My next mutiny comes when I divagate from my usual running route.  (Yes, I still run; I am unable or unwilling to mount any serious challenge to the incumbency of exercise.). I still begin by running South on Oakland.  But then (SHOCKER), instead of turning West on Zephyr,  I continue South, following Oakland all the way down to where it fetches up agains the train tracks.

For a block or two, no more, I run parallel to the tracks, and this is it, my treat, because I have loved train tracks for at least decade, and there is something about being in motion alongside the possibility of motion, the long secret snake of journeys past and future, that is almost unbearably sweet.

Today I saw a train.  Only four cars, but they thundered so satisfyingly, steaming and screeching, a blue, train-shaped silence in their wake.



Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Six Words

Slipper season.  Too cold to wake.