Tuesday, January 15, 2013

New Wells

I don't know that I've ever written for the fun of it.

At least, it's been a very long time since I have.

I've been writing as long as I can remember, even before I can remember.  In my memory box are crudely stapled construction paper booklets, and on them is my mother's neat print in blue Bic ink, "Heather is my little bookmaker."

I had no idea that I did that.

But I like that I did.  I like that I wanted to write before life started to hurt.

You see, I'm in this strange now-not-so-new place, this place of prolonged peace that I've spoken of.  No one in my family is dying or divorcing or remarrying, and no one in my church is rebuking me or my Dave.

In fact, my life is wildly enviable right now.  Dave has been hired to an excellent company.  His salary is enough that I quit my part-time job to work on writing full-time.  We are in a church that we call "ours".  Our fridge is full, our families are supportive, and our vehicles run great.  Even our cat is funny and healthy.

But it has the strangest effect on my writing.

Because, you see, I don't know that I've ever written for the fun of it.

I have written for classes, for internships, for freelanced articles, and for my family memoir clients. And on my own I have written volumes and volumes of non-fiction -  not for fun, you see, but for comprehension, for beauty, for sanity.  I became an expert at finding the smallest tropical island in a black hurricane sea.

In the middle of uncontrollable suffering, writing was the only control I had, the only power of redemption I had: to find truth and meaning in my hurting.

And for a decade, I had plenty of hurt.

But now I look at a blank page and blink.

I have forgotten how to write on my own without the catalyst of pain.

I believe I have words and things to say.  But the water is calm and blue, and the well I've always drawn from is miraculously dry.

So where now do I draw the water?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Summer Solstice

It was a Wednesday night, and Dave and I had just finished eating a late dinner in the living room.  As the end credits scrolled across the television screen, I lay back on the couch.

Long orange light slid across the kitchen floor - it was just before sunset, the night of the summer solstice.  Dave stood up, thanked me for making dinner, and went down to the basement to work.

The DVD looped back to the menu, so I rose to eject the disc - season one of The Simpsons, the third disc of three.  I reached for the plastic rental cover and popped it back into place with the two others.

I walked toward the basement stairs.  "Be back in a minute - don't lock me out!" I called down to Dave.  I heard the soft thunk of something mechanical.  "OK," he called back.  Discs in hand, I slipped into sandals and opened the front door.

It was a beautiful night, and a thin summer humidity cooled by the evening wrapped wide ribbons around my ankles, calves and arms.  I struck across the lawn, north to the sidestreet that dead ends into mine, and walked the one block north to the local rental store.  Passing apartments, I could hear people talking softly in their small enclosed patios.  Passing a sentinel line of pines, I smelled the warm tangy sap and dying needles. Glorious summer sensory.

I turned the corner at the auto repair shop, the first shop in the tiny strip of stores.  At the rental store - crowned with a circa 1984 logo - I squinted into the burning clouds as I pushed through the glass door.  Blinking, I went straight to the one shelf labelled "Television Shows", and plucked out The Simpsons: Season Two.

I stood in line behind a pale-skinned middle-aged man with a thinning ring of grey hair; he stood talking about some new movie to a twenty-something hipster behind the counter with black glasses and a taciturn face.  After a few sentences, the man thanked the clerk with a wave, then turned to leave.  When he saw me, he smiled.

I tugged at my skirt as I laid my return and new rental on the tall grey counter.  I have been getting more smiles recently.  After a few whimsical trips to the thrift store, I had added bright colors to the perpetual brown and olive spectrum of my wardrobe - lemon-yellow and navy blue beads, bright teal T-shirts, crayon-red blouses, even a pair of yellow sandals.  I tugged again at the waist of my skirt - bright royal-blue, knee-length and cotton.

With the first season paid for and the second season in hand, I passed the shelves of Blu-Ray Discs and leaned with an outstretched hand into the bar of the front door.  I walked back into the warmth and orange twilight.  I walked past the computer repair store, past the auto repair shop, past the empty car wash.  I was surrounded by sounds of living; no one was in sight.

Without a sidewalk, I walked on the asphalt of the sidestreet, passing the tall orange-washed pines and feeling the warm needle-shaped shadows on my cheeks, my nose and my forehead, my neck, my collarbones and my chest.  I could see the red door of my townhouse straight ahead at the head of the dead end.  Then, against the red and green and brick, springing out of the warmth, came a dozen, three dozen, lazy lightning bugs over the green of the lawns, slow-flashing specks of yellow light wandering in the falling evening air.  Their lights speckled the grass and air before my door, and all of it, all of it, filled my heart and joints and innards so full and warm to fit to overflow and burst.  I laughed aloud in delight.

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Dave's most understated gift to me is peace.

It's such a huge and quiet thing that I often forget about it.  But there are nights, like that night, when the beauty bubbles up from the silence and fills my heart with bright beating color.



Nights like this are significant for me because I used to be terrified to buy or do anything for myself, especially impractical things.  It is used to be really hard for me to do anything that's just for my sake or enjoyment - I could find selfishness in spending time away from people to exercise, heinous self-centeredness in reading for pleasure when I could be reading for instruction, starving African babies when I bought a $5 coffee for myself.  Looking at it over my shoulder, it was an awful anxious way to live.

Once he recognized that anxiety in me, he tried to give me the peace and permission I couldn't give myself.  "Do you like that?  You can buy it, y'know.  Do you want me to buy it for you?"  He would ask me that when we were at gift shops, festivals, and on vacations.  And it wasn't about me having everything I looked at and wanted; it was about me just having the freedom to want it and enjoy it.

Dave's patience and peace has been the level ground that I've grown on.  I don't feel a panic attack of guilt when I buy a $4 purple skirt - I take it, wear it, enjoy it.  I go for a jog and am blissfully unconcerned about all and sundry for 45 minutes in the morning.  I can walk to the video store and rent a movie without a care in the world.  Especially in past comparison, it is glorious.

This was one such night where I feel that gift, that beautiful freedom to just BE.  Dave wasn't even with me, but I knew where it came from.  In those moments, I remember why I have such peace, such freedom.  Why I can walk to the video store on a summer night, why I am comfortable enough to buy happiness-bright clothing, why I am not bracing for chaos in the quiet.

It's because I married a good man.

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I went through the red front door and laid down the video on our cluttered TV stand, so full of the joy of peace.

I went downstairs, Dave at work, brow furrowed as he pumped the handle of his bench press.

I just wanted to kiss him; I leaned down and waited for him to turn up his face and offer his lips.  Brows knitted, they relaxed a little when he looked up, and we pecked affectionately.

"How's it coming?" I asked.

"Better now," he said, still pumping the handle.  "I'm frustrated that I screwed up a round of brass, so I'm basically starting over."

"Mm."

The basement was air-conditioned-cold, a cluttered mix of grey table and black shelves and white cinderblock, but the summer night was still warm on my skin.

"Did you find anything?" he asked.  He meant a movie.

"Yeah - they had the next season."

"Mm," he said.  "That's good."

I kissed him again on his forehead and turned to the stairs.

"I'm glad to be with you," I said.

"I'm glad to be with you, too."  He looked up briefly from his workbench with a small grimaced smile.

I grinned and went upstairs.  So happy.

Wheel and Lever