Sunday, January 14, 2018

Good Night and Good Luck

I have decided to shutter this space. I am in the process of converting Splitting Infinitives to print. As soon as that’s done, in two weeks or thereabouts, I will delete the blog. There is no provocation other than my strong sense that the time is right.

But I did not want to take my leave before thanking you all, you who have stood by me with a steadfastness so resolute that I was sometimes bewildered by it. It is if anything an understatement to say that some of you old-timers helped me through the most challenging time in my life (the illness and subsequent death of my mother), and you were unquestionably my community during the long days and short years of parenting young children.

My heartfelt thanks, and all my love, always.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Ghosts of Christmas Past

When your male children grow old enough, it becomes apparent that they do not understand you. The fact of their gender finally trumps the connection — intense, near reverent — forged in utero. Oh, but they are fond of you, and treat you with care, as if you might break. They show affection even as they cock their heads to one side, uncomprehending. What they do when they are alone, you imagine, is shrug and allow thin plumes of exasperation to rise up — but never in front of you. You are honored, and will continue to be honored, simply by having substantiated them. They will not forget that you conveyed them here, even if they forget everything else.

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At Christmas I carry my ghosts, my mother on one side, my grandmothers on the other. From my ordinary family life I am removed, preoccupied with the comfort of people who are past needing comfort. I do all that is expected of me, but if you were to take my photograph during the holidays you'd find me pale and blurry, not quite present. I do not think that my sons or husband notice my half-absence. That is for the best.

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I seek out video footage of the city I lived in for the length of my childhood as if I might find myself in it. As if in a crowd of people walking up Madison Avenue I might spy my mother, Audrey Hepburn lookalike, walking with a little blonde slip of a thing fighting to keep the pace. (Children had to accommodate their parents then. Parents did not accommodate their children.) Perhaps my grandmother would have joined us, her red lipstick vivid, her hair done up in a chignon. Elegantly dressed but never dismayed by a child's grubby fingers tugging at her sleeve.

Sometimes I wonder how we go on. I mean this not in a trivial way — of course we go on, one foot in front of the other, all that. More how we lose these people so important that they might well be appendages and then still manage to be fine, better than fine, even, for more years than the years we spent with them.

I do it by imagining that I have lived not one but two lives. There was a life then, there is a life now, and there is only the faintest overlap between the two. The overlap is greatest at Christmas.

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With ferocity I love my children, even if they don't know half of me or the people who made me. Love is elastic and manages to cover over the gaps and crevices pretty well, I think. When my children look at me across the Christmas table this year, they will find neither my mother nor my grandmothers. But somehow I am certain that those three women will peek around me to see these grown/almost grown boys, and love not the descendants they imagined they'd have but the descendants slouching in their chairs, refusing most of this food — love them and me as we are, all these years later.

written in 2015

Friday, October 20, 2017

This Is Fifty

Long ago I blogged at a site I called Slouching Towards Forty. Today I find that title quaint, even precious. But then again I am two weeks shy of fifty, so of course my perspective has changed. What was so hard about forty? I can’t even remember.

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I am post-menopausal now, thankfully. (A hysterectomy at forty meant early menopause for me.) My body is my own again, and that alone is something to celebrate, is it not? I have lost forty pounds. I am healthy and energized. I am taking pleasure in expanding my wardrobe, buying clothes that are marginally edgier and more daring than I have ever owned.

What is this? Is it happiness? Not quite. Instead it is a subset of, or maybe a prequisite for, happiness. It is a newfound confidence in moving through the world, an ease with myself and others that I have long coveted. Little did I know that I myself could be the engineer of change.

++++++++++++++

All my life I have waited for things to happen. Until now. What power there is in realizing that change, and growth, is in my own wheelhouse, and always was.

Take that, fifty, take that.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Not Yet

A little over a month until I turn fifty years old, and I find that I am disappearing into myself. Not unwelcome, this development strikes me as nearly essential. I have withdrawn from much of social media. On Facebook I scroll by people's news with the sense that I am only avoiding what it is I am meant to be doing. Checking Facebook has become just another chore.

I am in a long slow process of becoming. Not yet brave enough to take a step forward, I am an incipient sprinter. A photographer has frozen me in time, both my feet still on the starting blocks. Yet contained in the photograph is the moment to come, when I will burst forth. Implied movement is real enough. It can be sensed.

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I am not yet a writer, but in the second act of my life I will be a writer. This is a truth I feel deeply. It informs my every action, even when I would wish it away. But I have to become stronger before I can give myself over to writing. I must acquire the faith that I can do this thing. I need to believe in myself in a way I have never been able to do.

++++++++++++++

A few weeks ago a teacher friend of mine taught a wonderful lesson to her second graders. She had them reformulate not's into not yet's. In this way the self-statement "I am not an artist" became "I am not yet an artist." One simple word — yet — changes everything. And as I watched these children write their not yet's (I can't play the drums — yet; I can't tie my shoes — yet), I remembered my own not yet, and I smiled, because I can be patient. Becoming is quiet, slow work that may just require some quiet, slow living.




Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Language Spoken Here

As I move the kettle to the back burner, I cup my hands around it to enjoy its warmth, and with it my husband's presence, solid and sure. This is how I know he loves me: the small but meaningful act of making me coffee every morning, although he is long gone when I make my way downstairs to find it waiting, undisturbed by teenagers and cats.

Somewhere once I heard a line about a woman knowing her marriage was over when her husband stopped making her coffee in the morning. A small act, or inaction, with large ramifications.

I hold my husband's small act close in a houseful of men. On vacation last week I realized that the three males with whom I live interact mostly on the strength of sarcasm and insult. It grew wearying, and once or twice even bordered on hurtful. The younger members of my family are still figuring out the line where acceptable social discourse meets rudeness, which line may well differ between men and women in any event.

"This is the way men talk to each other," my husband explained. Maybe that's true for him, or maybe it is more broadly. I cannot know. I do know that more than once on our recent trip I found myself clenching my jaw and wishing that I might have had a daughter with whom at least some of the time I could camp.

And yet, and yet. My sons and husband know me well enough to anticipate my needs. They advocate for me. They love me, simple as that. It is a love that can feel foreign, which affords it a gratifying element of surprise.

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They know me well enough, I wrote (did you notice?), which leaves room. I hold a core part of myself at a distance from others. I always have. It's a protective stance left over from an emotionally difficult childhood. But it is my fault, not theirs, that they cannot bridge the gap. How can you bridge what you do not even know is available to access?

As I nurse my morning coffee, I realize that I need to place more faith in gestures, in rituals of comfort and care. In that direction love lies, at least in my house.

I see you, grown and growing men. I hear your words, and today I recognize them as posturing. What matters most is the hand (strikingly large; I don't know when that happened) you placed on my shoulder as we hiked down a mountain a few days ago. You were steadying yourself but also steadying me. That hand spoke love as clearly as the coffee pot, each and every morning.






Tuesday, July 4, 2017

All the Colors, All the Stripes

We were in an Uber. A hard, persistent rain had forced us to abandon our plan of wandering around Kensington Market for the afternoon. We'd arrived in Toronto a day earlier in the midst of a gay pride parade, the end (or beginning?) of which was only a block or so away from our hotel. There were rainbows everywhere: painted on people's faces, waving at us from flags carried by people young and old. So many people. So much happiness.

The Uber driver began a conversation. Aimless chatter about the differences between Canada and the United States narrowed as we compared the costs of attending college in the two countries, which discussion evolved inevitably into talk about politics.

Feeling sure of the driver's political persuasion given his religion (Muslim) and nationality (Canadian), I ventured into Trump territory. In retrospect, a mistake, although my comment was relatively mild and nonspecific.

"Oh, I support Trump!" exclaimed the driver. My husband and I eyed one another. Was this sarcasm?

No. "He tells it like it is," he continued. "I love that about him." He continued on praising Trump for some time, oblivious to the uncomfortable silence of his passengers.

Now, as we closed in on our hotel, our driver gestured dismissively. "This is known as the gayborhood," he offered, his emphasis on the first syllable leaving no room for doubt as to his feelings about the neighborhood and its occupants.

I emerged from the car into misty rain, sunlight straining to break through. "Look!" pointed my fifteen-year-old. "There's a rainbow going straight down into the park where the gay pride parade was!"

And so there was. I nodded, preoccupied, thinking about the Uber driver who had so discouraged and confused me. Who, then, voted for Trump? Who supports him? If even someone Canadian, if even someone Muslim...

Against my dark thoughts the rainbow strengthened and clarified.

"If only this rainbow had appeared during the parade," my son mused. "What a statement that would have been. It would have made the news for sure."

Monday, May 29, 2017

Locating Happiness

Lately it's the little things.

The iced coffee at Wegmans is strong enough. (Iced coffee is never strong enough.)

My muscles relax in a hot bath. As steam rises I imagine my body offering whispers of thanks to the air.

With my husband I explore a park new to me. The path rises as it curves to the right. I can't see what's ahead, and I quicken my pace in anticipation. I am rewarded when the vista positively opens up around me: rolling hills with mountains beyond, and yes, even a red barn. On one side the park is fenced, bordering a farm, and as I walk along that side I hear, before seeing, five horses grazing close to the fence. They are blowing and snorting as they eat. They are so large, so majestic. I am delighted.

What is it about middle age? I do not seek out happiness as a goal or object and yet it comes to me in innumerable small ways, as long as my eyes are open and my heart is pliable.

And this, too: I am most likely to find happiness when I am outside, or at least out of the house. It's not as if my house is an unhappy place, but in it I am reminded of chores to do and things that need to be repaired or replaced. If being older has taught me anything it is to focus on people, not things.

Oh, there are plenty of times when I am annoyed, drained, or moody. I have not discovered some secret tunnel into joy. But if I can count a handful of happy moments throughout the course of a day, I am satisfied.

Twice in recent weeks I have been moved to tears by small gestures of kindness. "Mrs. Piazza, you're crying a little," observed a second grader, accidental witness to one such kindness. "Yes, but these are happy tears," I reassured him. He looked puzzled. I didn't try to explain. He will understand, but only after he has done a lot more living.