Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Into the Woods

I had the pleasure of attending a public reading given by Wendell Berry during his recent visit to Bloomington. This fast write was inspired by his words.

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“In the woods is perpetual youth.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was a woods girl. It helped with the loneliness. The only girl in our small neighborhood, I found friendship among the trees and land that surrounded our home.

My favorite place was the pine tree forest on the other side of our neighbor’s large yard. It was a substantial forest, carpeted in pine needles, with plenty of space to explore. Some of the trees had thick low limbs I could reach to climb my way up, sap sticking to my palms and fingers. One of these trees had a lookout point. I would nestle myself there and peer out over the neighbor’s yard, undetectable in my private haven.

The woods were within earshot of my house, although I was usually free to play uninterrupted for hours, and I was very earnest about retuning home in time for dinner on summer evenings.

The pine trees gave way to deciduous woods on the east, and here I would explore the forest floor for plants and wildflowers that interested me. I imagined a day when I would build myself a shelter at the base of a tree where I could spend the night. I dreamed of who might join me in my woodland home.

Sometimes I ventured even further, across three fields, to an old barn that stood fallow in a large farm field bordered by Stoute's Creek. This barn was a favorite destination, smelling of livestock in the lower level where stalls now stood empty. Up a ladder was the hayloft with a creaky floor and ceiling boards spaced apart enough to allow sunlight through. Outside there was a small shed that held tack and supplies. I’d often peek through the windows, imagining I owned horses that lived in the barn.

I’d often join my brother on journeys to the creek, where we’d hunt for fossils, finding many for our collections: crinoids, brachiopods, and geodes he would try to smash open to reveal the crystals inside. I liked turning rocks over to reveal crawdads darting backwards, forming dirt clouds in self-protection. Once we found a giant snapping turtle in the creek. We were so excited we ran all the way home to get Mom and bring her back to share our discovery with her.

As an adult I have chosen to live in a larger neighborhood with more friends nearby for my daughter. In many ways it’s the best of both worlds; ours is a wooded neighborhood, with a small pine tree grove at the public park down the street. And a little further still, you’ll find a wooded forest that defines the eastern edge of town. These woods hold their own treasures. Times have changed; children don’t wander alone at such young ages. But my husband, daughter, and I venture together to these woods as often as we can.

- Kim for the Poplar Grove Muse

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Writing, A Solitary Process?

Writers who have a basic process always amaze me, especially those whose process doesn’t vary all that much. Of course, most of the writers whom I hear talk about how they approach writing are best selling authors, so who am I to question them? I have so many ways to write that I don’t even try to count them. The one I used most recently was writing most of the piece in my head before actually getting anything down on paper. On my last trip to my hometown to visit my parents I started writing an essay in my head on Saturday night. I didn’t get the piece into the computer until Wednesday afternoon at my desk during my lunch hour. For me, writing is not necessarily solitary. I was so into the process that I bordered on being rude to my co-workers; it felt all-consuming. Writing this way has produced some of the pieces I’m most proud of, but it only seems to work when the subject is extremely personal. I would like to share the essay that I wrote in my head with all of you.

Whistling in the Dark

It is 7:45 on a Saturday night and I’m hurtling through the night with my dad at the wheel. I look over at the dashboard to see how much over 100 he’s going, but the speedometer is only registering 35mph. I feel like I’m on the nose of a rocket heading through the darkness of outer space. Maybe it feels out of control because he seems so casual and oblivious to the other cars for someone who’s 90 and doesn’t see well after dark. He’s making that little whistling noise he’s always used as a stress reliever. It helps. I do that too.
We have just left the Lincoln Center Rehabilitation Wing where my stepmother has been admitted to help her get back on her feet after a fall that broke her C-3 vertebrae this summer. She hasn’t been the same since. Her neck has healed, but her personality did a 180: she’s grouchy, confused, argumentative and weak as a kitten -­ no muscle tone, just slack skin hanging on her long frame. Dad and I are worried that she has the beginnings of dementia caused by the trauma of her fall, that she won’t ever be her sweet self again. Life is out of control.
Dad pulls into Wendy’s parking lot and I take my foot off the imaginary brake. Ok. We made it half –way home. We’ll eat dinner and then just a few more blocks to safety. We order salads after bickering over who’s going to buy. I let him win. He needs a victory right now, even a small one. We sit across from each other and it’s like eating in front of a mirror. We pick at our salads the same way. Hunting and pecking, eating the “good stuff” first, wiping our mouths and taking sips of our drinks in unison. We organize the trash on our trays exactly the same, folding and smoothing crumpled napkins, folding up the paper off our straws into one-inch rectangles, making everything neat and orderly, even our trash, controlling the things we can control.
An acquaintance of Dad’s comes over to our table to chat. Dad jokes with him, asking him if he comes here often. Mr. Doyle replies that since his wife died he’s there every day. Then he says he’d better get home, doesn’t want to be late falling asleep in front of the TV. He and Dad chuckle half-heartedly; Mr. Doyle facing the reality of his life and Dad envisioning what his is becoming. We say goodbye to Mr. Doyle and head out the door. I brace myself for another Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, but it’s mostly uneventful, just one little bobble to the right, plowing through his neighbor’s leaves piled at the edge of the street.
Inside the house it feels safe and WAY too warm. Old People Warm. But we’re in the beautiful home that my stepmother so tastefully decorated, and it makes my stomach hurt to think she may never get to live there again, surrounded by beauty and Dad’s love for her.
I go to my room to change my clothes and when I come back to the kitchen, Dad is standing on a chair in front of the refrigerator taking the clock off the wall to change the time. It’s another thing I can’t control, my wobbly dad standing on a wobbly chair because he wants to do everything for himself.
Just as we sit down in the family room the phone jangles and it’s my stepmother crying and saying she’s scared because she can’t find her call button. She wants Dad to call the nurse’s station and tell them she needs to go to the bathroom and could he have me come over and sit with her for awhile. That I can do, sit with her and try to calm her fears, at least for tonight. Make a safe space for her like she did for me when my own mother disowned me. Dad says he’ll stay by the phone so I can call and let him know how she is.
I head back to the rehab facility. This time I’m driving, but it still feels like I’m racing through the darkness toward unknown dangers and the ugliness of getting old.

Rebekah for Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hello from Portland, OR

Actually a little west of there, but only a letter-writing train ride and a few short blocks away from Powell’s bookstore in downtown.
Life here is full of complicated contrasts. The up-and-outwardness of exploring a new city and coast, the down-and-insideness of feeling my tender and recently-torn roots.

It’s taken me four months to seek out another writing community. I clearly know why – nothing can replace what I had with you.
It’s been easy to ignore my writing practice. The sun has been shining (mostly) all summer and into the fall . I go out and play. Find cool things, go for long bike rides, enjoy nature. I do some writing in my blog and journal. Yet I don’t write with process or ritual and I don’t hear my words back from others. I don’t have the accountability or the support of other women. I even put off the invitation to do a blog update.

This is a happy story, though. The happiness is that I know, deeply, how much the WWF(a)C Bloomington community has touched, and continues to enrich, my life. And with that gift, I tune in to my new home with renewed spirit. I take a risk. I run my first Google search, “women+writing+Portland.” That’s a start, a good start.