making room

A few weeks ago I phoned my son Jack in Asheville. “How would you feel about me taking over your bedroom at home and turning it into a writing space?” I asked.

I’d hesitated for weeks before raising this idea. But Jack didn’t hesitate in his response. “Oh, that’s fine,” he said, “you can do whatever you want with my room.”

Although we have a tiny office on the first floor of our house, I’ve never written a word in it. The desktop computer is my husband’s and his in-box sits beside it, overflowing with not-urgent papers and clippings and instruction manuals. The window above the desk looks out to the driveway and whatever vehicles happen to be parked there. The counter is a repository for checkbooks and bills to be paid, stamps and envelopes. And the chair, just the right height for Steve, is not very inviting to me. The office is a perfectly good place to write a check or Google driving directions, but it’s not a space my muse has ever chosen to visit.

Most of the words I’ve produced over the last ten years in this house have come from a stool at the kitchen table, where I look out to a view of fields and mountains and sky. I’ve spent countless hours perched there, staring out the windows above the sink while trying to pull my thoughts together. As a mother, as a wife, as a cook and homemaker, and also as a writer, I’ve always been drawn to this room, my own home base, whether I’m chopping something, stirring something, washing something, or writing something. Soups and emails, jars of jam and blog posts, thank you notes and books, all have come from my kitchen. More often than not, several of these things are coming together at once, which means that the written work can easily be shifted to the bottom of my priorities list. No one actually cares if I write or not, but dinner does have to appear on that table every night.

And yet, as summer turned to fall this year, I found myself longing for some other kind of place, a place not in the middle of the action but away from it. A place in which some new work might begin to take shape, privately and quietly. A place where there is nothing that needs to be chopped or watered or cleaned or stirred, where books of memoir and poetry would be easily at hand, and where my laptop and notes and papers don’t have to be put away at the end of the day so that placemats and napkins and silverware can be laid out in their place. [continue…]

oasis

IMG_7556-4The surgeon was running a little late. I was right on time. I had followed every pre-op instruction to the letter: donated a unit of my own blood to receive back during surgery, had an MRI and new X-rays, taken my liquid iron and B vitamins and blood thinner and Celebrex, met with an anesthesiologist, a physical therapist, a pharmacist. I’d given up coffee and my evening glass of wine days ago, had my teeth cleaned (from now on, that will involve a precautionary dose of antibiotics), tidied up the house and paid the bills, and scrubbed my right hip twice a day for three days with Hibiclense. I even got my hair cut.

Through it all, I worried and wondered. Was I doing the right thing? Would I be better off to accept my lot, buck up, and carry on with my own two painfully arthritic hips? Was I trying too hard to hold on to youth? Being greedy to want to hike or do triangle pose or ride a bike again? Or would I look back, as a few hip-replacement veterans predicted, and wonder why I waited so long to get new parts?

By the time I climbed into my assigned bed in a small pre-op cubicle at New England Baptist Hospital last Friday, there was nothing more for me to do. And there was certainly no point to any more mental dithering and debating. A curious, unexpected calm descended.

[continue…]

Dear Older, about these cars. . .

sport-fury-brougham“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.” ~Goethe

This is the second in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Margaret Roach, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. I’m Old (just 55) and she’s Older (facing 60 this year). And since we’re surely not the only ones buying wrinkle creams, we decided to share our exchange with you, too.  Be sure to read Margaret’s letter to me here.   

Dear Older,

Oh Margaret! You would have to bring up our cars.

Well, I’m not going to lie about age here.  Yes, my Acura is ten years old.  And she’s about to roll over 170,000 miles – that’s a lot of trips taken, a great deal of life lived, many bridges crossed.

Buying this car was the first thing Steve and I did in 2003 when we left the suburbs of Boston and moved back to my country roots.  If we were going to make our home in a place where the last snow might not melt til mid-April, I wanted a car that would carry me through our Northern winters without too much anxiety on my part.  “Good in snow” was my top priority when we went out shopping for new wheels.

It’s worth remembering that gas cost $1.54 a gallon when we arrived in New Hampshire to embark on this new life.  “Good mileage” was on my list, but it was somewhere below good visibility, comfort, and safety.

Jack was eleven and Henry was just starting high school when I began driving the kids around rural New Hampshire in my brand new silver MDX. (Family trips we took in our Toyota Sienna minivan – plenty of room for two parents, two boys, one dog and gear for all, and already showing the wear and tear of four years of hard daily use.) The Acura was the nice car.  My car.  And, I’ll admit: it was and is the only car I’ve ever loved.

A little back story:  I’m not a natural behind the wheel.  I shudder to recall my first solo forays on our rural roads after I got my driver’s license in 1974.  The car: my parents’ 1970 red Plymouth Fury sedan, graciously bequeathed to me.  The most notable feature of that car was its size.  Huge. I have vague, unsettling memories even now of drifting around curves in the road, wondering if I was going a little too fast, fighting to hold the car on the pavement, straining to sit tall enough in the broad, slippery seat to see out the windshield.  [continue…]

Time in a bottle

photospent most of yesterday morning in the kitchen with my son Jack, windows open to the September air.  In ten days he will move to Atlanta to begin his new life there as a student.  But for now, the two of us find ourselves home alone together.  (Henry left last week to return to his alma mater, St. Olaf, where he’s helping out with the fall musical; Steve has been away for a few days on business. And so, it’s just two of us here, a rare mother-son combination that hasn’t happened for years and may not recur any time soon.)

All summer, I have mourned the end of summer.  Back in June, my family laughed at me for regretting the passing of time before the time I’d been anticipating had even arrived.  (Yes, I know, it’s crazy.) The days were still getting longer, they pointed out, and already I was imagining how I would feel when they began to grow shorter.  The lake water was perfect for swimming, and I was wondering how many more swims we would have. A piercing awareness of the preciousness, the transience, of everything is, I suppose, both the blessing and the burden of my temperament. It is also the price my family has to pay for living with me.  I am always reminding them (myself!) to notice, to appreciate, to be aware of all that is and of all we have.

The truth is, I write so much about inhabiting the moment largely to help myself remember that it’s where I want to be: simply present.  My tendency, always, is to live with a lump in my throat.  I experience the pain of endings even as I cherish the tenderness of beginnings.  I allow every joy to be shot through with a thread of sadness.  And I see in all that lives, all that has passed;  in all that is, all that one day will no longer be.

And so  I sit in my garden amidst the wildly blooming nasturtiums and feel the fleetingness of their splendor.  I adore our thirteen-year-old dog all the more for knowing her days are numbered.  (When she placed her head on the bed this morning at 6 am and pleaded for a walk, I swung right into action – because, of course, I can so easily imagine the future, when there will be no need to be out taking a hike at dawn.)  I fill our basement freezer with strawberries and blueberries and raspberries picked at the height of the season because I am always conscious of the season’s inexorable turning.

Hanging out with my soon to be 21-year-old son yesterday, I reminded myself to simply enjoy the moment, without layering on the fact that in a few weeks he’ll be in his own new kitchen a few thousand miles away and we’ll be texting instead of talking. [continue…]

A healing journey

L5 xray
Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn

~ Pema Chodron

We looked at the X-rays together, my son Jack and I.

“This is last August,” the orthopedist said, pointing to the image on the left, showing two clear fractures in Jack’s L-5 vertebrae, fractures that, after 6 months, were showing no signs of healing on one side and only a minimal feathering of bone growth on the other.

“And this is now,” he said, indicating the scan from last week. “Completely healed.

“I can tell you,” he said turning to Jack and raising his hand for a high five, “this hardly ever happens.”

I remember my very first glimpse of my younger son: the dark, cool room; the ultrasound wand sliding through the goop on my swollen stomach; my husband peering over me to get a look at the shadowy little curlicue of a person floating deep within my belly. It was, I am suddenly realizing, twenty-one years ago this summer – my son’s entire lifetime ago, and yet still fresh and vivid in my mind’s eye. The technician asked if we wanted to know the sex of our baby. [continue…]