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Category: dispatch from the 02139 front

laboratory for loving

laboratory for loving

dispatch from 02139 (in which most of what was learned this week came in the wee hours of the night, in the dark, uplit by glow of cellphone, and the voice on the other end of the line was the kid who’s taught me more than just about anyone else on the planet about what it means to love…)

long ago and far away, last sunday in fact, easter sunday, the piled-up collisions on the highway of my life seemed daunting, seemed as if i’d never find that skinny path between crunched fenders and broken glass, to ease myself to the side of the road, where i’d call 9-1-1, and see if blaring lights and roaring sirens came riding to my rescue.

(note to mother-in-law and all those who worry: all metaphor, no one really got hurt. not much anyway.)

there was, come to think of it, one case involving bodily injury, and that came, of course, because too often i forget to watch where i’m going. especially when i’m hurdling toward one of my sweet boys.

what happened is that the monday before easter, the first night of passover when the calendar was a bit more jammed than usual, i was dashing out of a lecture hall, because i’d just realized the school bus was disgorging my 11-year-old at the very moment i was leaving postwar fiction, and no one had reminded the boy to wait patiently on the stoop. i charged full throttle into a protruding (potentially decapitating) oak ledge (a big mother sucker, one i’ve since gone back and examined, and i’m talking two inches thick, 12-inches deep, cantilevered in thin air, jutting brazenly into the path of oncoming traffic).

i hit the darn thing straight on, as if a linebacker to quarterback’s helmet, only the parts of me that hit the former titanium-grade tree were those bones — sternum, clavicle and one or two ribs — that course across the upper chest, first line of defense against crushed lungs and heart and wind pipe.

ol’ wind got knocked right out of me, all right, and apparently, bones crunched too. as did my top back molar, which on impact somehow smashed and cracked into the tooth just below. so, for the next few weeks, i am spending too much time getting to know my lovely cambridge dentist. and because i’ve decided there’s not much to do in the cracked rib department, i am self-medicating with ibuprofen and watching the ugly chest bumps go down-down-down.

other than that, all the week’s collisions have been the sort that scramble up the heart and head. out of respect to all involved, all i can say on that is that my prayer list grew mightily in recent days. (and cure from breast cancer is among my prayers for a dear, dear friend.)

oh, there were the usual not-life-changing worries on the list: the sixth-grade math project (due today), the taped phone interview with one of the icons of the american feminist movement (yesterday), the newspaper assignment (due monday), the all-weekend narrative writing conference, and the cat who keeps forgetting that the rugs are rugs and not patches of grass thirsty for his fertilizations.

but the one who stretched my heart, and once again plunged me into the laboratory of what it means to really truly love, was my beautiful two-hours-away college kid.

i remain convinced that, more than anything else, i am on this planet to learn how to really deeply exquisitely love.

and from the moment my firstborn tumbled into my life, he has been my masterclass zen guide and professor.

the most essential truth, of all the truths i’ve learned so far: you don’t give up. ever. not when you’re bone-tired. not when the going gets really rough. not when you’re afraid to breathe. not when you really think you’re plumb outta solutions. or even make-shift stabs in the wilderness.

i vividly recall the first time that lesson crossed my sketchpad: i’d been home from the hospital with that little bundle of perfection for maybe one or two whole days. he was a hungry boy. he mewed and rustled in my arms, to make sure i always caught his drift.

i’d just finished a good hour or two of nursing, and then, hungry boy, he wanted more. well, it had been a long day already. one that had launched with little sleep, and one that barely allowed for spooning porridge to hungry lips (and the lips in this case were mine). but the sweet boy cried. all he wanted was the thing that i alone could give.

i remember, at precisely that moment, glancing at a window, a dark, mirror-like plate-glass plane shielding the abyss. i saw a frantic face in that window (mine). and i remember thinking, oh, now i understand how it is that overwhelmed mothers dump their newborns at the police precinct door. can’t i just take this bundled lump back to the land from whence he came? ask for refund. wipe my hands of all of it, and go merrily on my way? really, i don’t think i’m cut out for this round-the-clock unrelenting equation.

the temptation, i tell you, nearly flattened me.

but then, i plunked back down into the crushed pillows of the couch, yanked up my T-shirt, and attached babe to breast. i rode out the impulse to surrender, abandon ship, ditch it all and call in reinforcements.

and ever since, that’s been the bottomline of each and every mother-and-child encounter.

when you sign on, as i have, to life-long passage on the good ship motherhood, you are bound to find yourself in dark and murky waters now and then. it’s how life works. most especially in this day and digital age.

so the kid i love got hurt a few weeks back. all tied, it turns out, to when he broke his neck back in eighth grade. this time muscles spasmed. shot him through with pain. so bad he could barely breathe. and then the headaches came. pounding, unrelenting. two long weeks of unabated brain wedged inside a vice. or so it felt to him.

that makes it rather hard to read hundreds of pages, and harder still to sit through midterms. so, if you’re a kid who cares about not flunking out of college, you begin to panic.

and the worse it gets, the more you check in with that one soul on your list who’s shown herself to have a fairly bottomless bag of tricks.

thus, the phone rang the other night at 11:55. the first words were, “mom, i’m kind of scared.” that pretty much catapults you into the land of wide-awake and ready to hit the gas pedal clear up state route 2.

all i wanted in that deep dark moment was to be right beside him, the way i always used to be. with warm washcloth at the ready, sponging his pounding brow. i wanted the room he was in not to be the dingy college dorm, the one splattered still with blood from when he stepped on broken glass and forgot to spritz the cleaner. i wanted not to be sitting two hours away, but was deeply grateful it wasn’t the usual 17 hours away.

i needed to employ long-distance mothering, which might be one of the more wrenching brands therein. i stayed on the line a good hour, till he was yawning, till he was sure he could finally fall asleep. first thing the next morning, i was on the line with the doctor back in chicago. i was emailing the extraordinarily compassionate english professor who’d vowed to be there for whatever the kid needed. i was texting the kid, asking if he remembered to take the excedrin. asking if perchance the vice was loosening its squeeze.

i pretty much lost track of every other worry on my plate.

during the hour i was strapped into the dentist’s chair, i remember a tear trickling down my cheek. and not because the shot of novacaine hurt so much. only because the boy i love was far away, was hurting, was scared, was not so far from panicking.

i checked in a couple times that day. because when you are loving through and through you don’t get to forget the deep dark place where your firstborn dwells. you stay on it, check back with the doctor’s office, make sure they got the message, make sure the doctor’s set to call the kid.

you know it’s not yet time to leap in the car and drive out there. you want the kid to learn to fend for himself, to find his way, to take up the reins of his own life, and taste the sweet joy of self-driven resurrection.

by nightfall, you get a text, telling you the doctor talked to him not for five measly minutes, but for 45 glorious ones. he knows what to do. and, by the way, the headache’s lifting.

next day, he meets with the professor whose midterm he is due to take, whose reading he’s nowhere near finishing.

by week’s end, the headache’s all but gone. he sounds pretty much his usual ebullient self. he’s got a reprieve on the midterm, and all weekend to catch up on reading.

and you, the mother of this child, you’ve steered through the narrow channel, figured out all over again just what it means to love as you would be loved.

you’ve kept your whisper up against his ear, late into the night. you’d not let on that you’d been sound asleep till the moment the phone jangled you awake. you knew, because that’s just how it is, that you’d clear the calendar and drive straight through to the horizon if that’s what he needed. and, most of all, you knew there was no stopping you, no hurdle, no ledge, no nothing you wouldn’t brave for him.

in the laboratory for loving, the kid keeps teaching you the depths and breadths and heights of your hard-held vow to make this the one wee spot in your life where, no matter the blunders, you try — oh, God, you try — to get it right.

who teaches you the depth and breadth of love?

bathed in birdsong & other stirrings of mama earth

crocus stirrings

dispatch from 02139 (in which, despite snow clouds that scuttle across the sky, the determined among us set out to scratch up vernal offerings….)

all week, at a mere 20 minutes past the hour of five, i’ve been catapulted from my slumbers.

once or twice by the fat cat launching into his basso morning rumble (always a sign of impending doom and certain need for rug-cleaning spritz-spritz-spritz). but more often, and more insistently, it’s the mad chorus of matin birdsong that up and lifts me from my lumpy pillow, and sets me sailing for the windows.

there, ear to glass, i drink in all the early-morning world of cambridge has to offer me. i marvel that amid the cobblestone streets, and the colonial lean-to’s, amid the screech of 21st-century brakes and the occasional ambulance roaring by, whole colonies of bird have fluttered in, hunkered down, and think nothing of opening wide their throats and letting loose with heaven’s warble.

there are those in this house who grumble thusly, who reach for my swift-abandoned pillow and make of it a helmet, a sound-shielding barrier, one that muffles pre-dawn birdsong.

ah, but that is not me.

no, i’m the girl who drinks it in like coca-cola through a straw.

i was, you see, born and raised on bird.

(that cinematic signature of suburban america circa 1960, the family movie, regularly took time out at our house from birthday party, graduation, backyard frolic to pan up to the trees where, for a good five-minute stretch, mr. scarlet tanager, or sir indigo bunting would hold the frame, while abandoned children must have wondered why their markings ever paled to celestial feather. as recently as yesterday, The Original Mama Nature, as we sometimes call my mama, sent out one of her “nature notes” informing all five of her brood — spread all across the continental US — that “The Ducks are back,” as urgent a missive as you’ll ever get from her.)

when you grow up knowing in a blink the orange breast of the robin, the red flash of cardinal, and the iridescent blue of said bunting, you tend to not only pay attention but feel the hard-wired zing of ornithological amazement, in whatever form it brushes, wafts or flutters by you.

and this week, the signal that it sent — loud and clear and unshakably — was that the winter world would soon be melting, and once again the globe would spin toward full-throttle rebirth.

the birds don’t always wait for mercury to make it comfy cozy. they’re impelled by slant of light, by intensity of wattage. and, according to their inner-clickers, it’s high time to get this springtime show on the road.

a girl who pays attention has little choice but to play along. so one of the amusements with which i amuse my wandering eye is one i call spot-the-crocus. as i dilly-dally off to reading room or lecture hall, i pay no mind to cracks and heaves in the sidewalk (always a dangerous distraction). rather, i scan the sidelines in search of anything but brown or gray or muddy-olive-drab.

and, more and more these days, i am hearing the bing-bing-bing of hitting the crocus jackpot. now that the last mounds of snow are melting into oblivion, the sweet nodding purple heads are rising up and offering resurrection. “you’ve made it through the long, hard winter, through howling winds and winter boots that weighted down your feets like so many pounds of ore,” they seem to whisper. “’twill soon be the day when you can bound down the stairs and out the door in little but a sweater. a pink sweater, even. rather than the charcoal gray and black you’ve worn since winter solstice.”

i am feeling hope. but this year, too, with warming winds, and vernal light, comes a hard-to-ignore wince deep down inside. we’ve been told that it’s a common ail of spring for all the nieman fellows. our year of sumptuous living is, undeniably, inching toward the final chapters. and at the speed with which the weeks whiz by, inching is hardly the proper verb. more like avalanche-ing. swallowing us whole. leaving us little time to gasp, to catch our breath, to realize just how soon we’ll be grabbing for the rolls of tape, packing boxes filled with books, and heading home to sift for months through these holy blessed hours, and try to figure out how in the world to live up to all we’ve learned and dreamed and promised.

but that’s the puzzle for another day.

today, this holy silent day of somber friday, i will go deep within. i will wrap myself in sunlight and birdsong, i will watch the sky, and feel the rumble of the earth beneath my knees. i will find my way to the monastery. i will unfurl prayer. and, as i always do, i will let the noisy flocks carry off my hopes and fervent whisper to that up-high station on its way toward heaven.

do you, too, scan high and low for peeps of spring? and how do you go still — if you do — as we enter into these holiest of days in the roman christian calendar? 

 

what matters most

what matters most

dispatch from 02139 (in which the script turns from sorrow to triumph, and from across the western hills, the cavalry gallops in, just in the nick of time…)

ever since we got the word way last spring that we were headed to veritas U. for this year of living sumptuously, the bespectacled fellow with whom we live, the one now known as “the professor,” had but one shining dream:

that, on the evening when he was called upon to stand before the crowd and unspool the whole of his lifework, a moment known in nieman vernacular as “the sounding,” his first newspaper hero — his papa, a longtime editor and lifelong newshound — would be in the room.

that his papa would be upfront and center glowing in that way he so often glows. that his deep soulful laugh would echo round the chamber. that the tears that stream so easily from his eyes would, indeed, be streaming. filled with knowing that in his grasp was a life of dreams come true.

it was not to be.

two weeks ago, an ambulance carried our beloved longtime newspaper editor to the hospital. he spent a few days in ICU, and now is growing sturdier. he’ll go home soon.

but not soon enough to take the trip from the jersey shore up to the city nestled along the charles river. not soon enough to be in the room last tuesday night, when “the professor” rose, clipped on the microphone and began to unspool the tale of why he does what he does. why his job as the architecture critic of the chicago tribune, in one of the world’s great architectural meccas, has for all these years held his imagination and his passions, why he lives the life of what he calls an “activist critic,” meaning he tries to avert disaster before it strikes its wrecking ball or sinks its pylons, or, conversely, why he uses his column inches to set an agenda of enlightened civic discourse when it comes to public space and edifice.

alas, there were heavy hearts here in the aerie. we all knew this moment swept by but once.

a videocamera filled in a piece of the gap. but the blank space in the equation could not, in fact, be filled. instead of treating the professor’s mama and papa to a couple nights at the inn on harvard square, instead of introducing them to the bevy of glorious fellows, we had to settle for follow-up phone calls to new jersey to recount the eve. we dispatched photos over the computer wires. and soon enough we will hand over a copy of “the sounding” as recorded on DVD.

but that is not the whole of the story.

other scripts were unspooling as that one stalled to its sorry close.

the professor’s firstborn, a college kid who seems to keep only scant attention on the doings back home,  seemed to divine the significance of the evening, and despite the fact that it was midterm week — and a tuesday night, no less — he and i set about scheming how to get his lanky self two hours east so he could amply fill one of the seats in the room.

while we set about searching bus and train departure and arrival times, the little one in this house set sail a scheme all his own.

he’d long thought it would be a hoot to introduce the chicago architecture critic with a resounding re-enactment of the chicago bulls pyrotechnic theme song, an anthem that shakes the rafters of the united center back in michael jordan’s home cathedral on the near west side of the windy city. what was particularly amusing about that scenario was how counter to the professor’s culture that might be. our beloved professor is not exactly the pyrotechnic type. rather, he might be more instantly equated with a gentle brahms suite, or a soundtrack in which the hushed turning of pages was considered plenty percussive.

as would be the case in any suspense tale worth telling, the college kid could not find bus nor train nor automobile that aligned with his midterm exams. he and i even got to wondering how much it would cost to hire a car. or, might there be a friend — heck, a stranger would suffice — willing to earn cold hard cash, say 100 easy bucks, to drive the kid in for the evening?

as of 10:30 the morning of the talk (aka “the sounding”), there was no such solution to be had. we’d reached the dead end of this scheme. and it was clearer than clear that there’d now be yet another empty seat in that seminar hall.

yet all the while, as the college kid scrounged for rides, the 11-year-old (the one who no longer can justifiably be called “the little one,” much as i’ve come to love that name) busied himself with his self-appointed role in this unfolding family drama.

never mind that just a few years ago no one would have imagined that kid with the gumption to get up in front of a crowd and read hand-crafted words (let alone craft the darn words). he had it in his head that he — and he alone — should be the one to unfurl the red carpet for his papa’s shining moment in the nieman sun.

he wasn’t daunted by size of crowd, nor reputation of those esteemed and mighty nieman fellows. nay, he kept his eyes trained on one and only one sure thing: he loved his papa, and he would usher his papa to the podium in fitting form.

so, wasting no time, he perched himself on his typing chair, and pounded out his script. (a script, i tell you, no  rambling mumbling from the hip.) he closed and locked his bedroom door, and practiced over and over, declaiming to his empty bunk bed. he gave it a run-through. he melted into smile. he liked it, his words of introduction.

but then, the afternoon of the big talk, he hurdled in from the school bus, popped a piece of chewing gum in his mouth (“i like to chew when i’m nervous,” he reported), then plopped back into typing chair, and revised his words. much better, he decided.

with no fanfare, he folded and tucked his script into the front pocket of his jeans. he slipped on his snow coat, and off we headed in the rain.

once inside the white clapboard nieman house, the beehive where all this speechifying was to unfold, we set about the business of transforming the joint into our favorite jewish deli on chicago’s near west side. while setting out the manny’s mustard and the “welcome to chicago. mayor rahm emanuel” signs, the professor’s cell phone jingled.

the next words i heard were these: “willie? where are you? you’re in harvard square?!?”

and so, the cavalry came through. the trumpet sounded from the crest of triumph hill.

at the very last minute, after white flags had been waved, the college kid’s roommate mentioned he was heading into cambridge for the eve, to take in a lecture and dinner just down the block from where all glory — and mounds of chicago brisket, and latkes, and half-sour pickles — would soon be dolloped.

the kid, resplendent in j. press fair isle sweater, barreled through the door and into the grand foyer. his mama let out a yelp that might echo in those halls for years to come. no sweeter sound than the sound of arms enfolding arms, the embrace that will not loosen.

not quite an hour later, the little one, in a magnificent demonstration of the heart that pounds beneath that skinny chest, rose to the microphone, and let loose his poetry of charm and pride and introduction.

said the little one:

“Hi. I’m Teddy.

My Dad is the architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune. He’s a good guy, and he’s pretty awesome.

But I have to be honest: I don’t always agree with his reviews.

Anyway, my dad and I have lots of fun together.

We play cards. I beat him.

We play basketball. I beat him.

And we always hang out together on weekends.

Okay, so maybe I have a little more fun – just because I beat him pretty much.

But if we had a game on who would have a better sounding, he would win.

I hope you enjoy his bodaciously awesome sounding.”

and with that, the architecture critic took it away.

but all i heard, most of the next two hours, was the sound of my heart thumping as i looked a few inches to my left and right, and saw both our boys circled tight, in hands-squeeze reach.

there are moments in our lives when all that matters, really, is that we breathe in and exhale the very same specks of air. that, in real time, we hear the same sounds at the same moment. that we catch the glimmers in each other’s eyes.

that we know, through and through, we’ve climbed mountains, forded streams, and dodged near bullets — just to be together.

because, as the professor always says, 98 percent of life is just showin’ up. especially when what you’re showing is the full power of your heart.

twas a night to remember, the night the boys came through for papa. and i was right there to be blessed by it all.

why i do what i do sounding

this one’s for the family journal. for my faraway beloved mama and papa-in-law. and for anyone teetering on the brink of should i jump through hoops just to be there….the answer: a resounding yes. 

do you have a tale to tell of a time someone you love made the impossible possible, and came across the horizon to the tune of triumphant trumpet call? or a time when you were the one who decided the impossible must be slayed, and you were going to make it, come heck or high water?

the barefoot monk and his God of pots & pans

the tale of brother lawrence

dispatch from 02139 (in which we meet a 17th-century monk with wisdom for the ages….)

the snows have been tumbling since the cloak of twilight fell last eve. a short pause here and there, but mostly tumbling, tumbling. with little sound but the shooshing of slush as it spits out from under thirsty tires on the street below, i’m tucked inside, home alone, curled up with a tiny blue slip of a book.

i’d not heard of the book, nor its author, until just a week or so ago, when a wise woman of letters likened something i’d written to the musings of brother lawrence, he with his God of pots and pans.

she mentioned this in passing, as if of course i knew the fellow. i did not.

no more need be whispered. i stood intrigued. and i set out to unearth this humble fellow who stumbled on the Holy amid the clangings of his monastery kitchen, not long after the pilgrims pulled ashore at plymouth.

i marched straight to the nearest epicenter of literary procurement — aka, the cambridge public library — and there i found the shelves were hollowed of brother lawrence and his sole literary offering, “practice of the presence of God,” a line i’d heard over the years — been struck by, really — though i never knew its origins. nor ever thought to wonder.

my friendly librarian managed to scrounge up a solitary copy from the bowels of some far-flung college archives. she dispatched it swiftly, and it came into my possession just days ago.

this white-freckled morn of mounding drifts offered the perfect occasion for making its acquaintance.

so down i plopped. and here i share the tale.

no bigger than a folded-in-half index card, a mere 80 yellowed pages, the title etched in gold gothic letters across a navy canvas, it’s a wisp of a volume. weightless as the wing of a dove. a book that might get swallowed whole at the bottom of a satchel, where it nearly did get lost this week.

yet it packs a mighty wallop.

it’s a humble collection of conversations and letters of one barefoot monk who, back in 1666, spilled the wisdoms soaked up in its now fragile pages.

the gentle fellow took the name “brother lawrence” upon entering the monastery of the barefooted carmelites in paris, not long after an uncanny conversion that came one winter’s day, staring at a tree, dry and leafless. seems the good brother absorbed the stark emptiness, but in that way that saints and wise souls do, he saw beyond it.

he imagined the possible.

as is written in the six-itty-bitty-page preface: the soon-to-be brother lawrence stood before the naked tree “reflecting on what a change God would make in it with the returning spring.”

and thus he was hit, head-on. the surging sense of the immensity of the Holy One all but knocked him down, realizing the life force, the Beautiful that would burst from the Barren.

again, from the preface: “it may seem strange so affecting a sense of Divine attributes should have been occasioned by so common an incident as seeing a tree, dry and leafless in the winter, and by reflecting what a change God would make in it with the returning spring. this may seem strange; but, in fact, it is rather to be wondered at, that others are not affected as he was, and that the little miracles of nature make so little impression upon us.”

and so, a little miracle of nature led the man, born nicholas herman of lorraine, to the great stone monastery in paris around the year 1626, when he was but 18.

there, brother lawrence, who described himself as “a great awkward fellow who broke everything,” (indeed, so kindred a spirit is my newfound bumbling ally, ol’ larry) found himself dispatched to the kitchen, “to which he had naturally a great aversion.” for some 15 years, he was cook to the society of monks.

amid the pots and pans, he established a profound yet simple spiritual practice: “i began to live as if there was none but He and i in the world,” he writes in the first of 14 letters pressed into the pages of his book.

in his second letter, he writes: “i make it my business only to persevere in His holy Presence…an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with God.”

in other words, imagine that God is always near, dangling over your shoulder, tucked in the pocket of your dungarees. no need for piety, or gilded cathedral walls. no need for practiced vespers, or slipping away from the cacophony of the everyday. brother lawrence’s is the God of the here and now, especially when it’s messy.

“it is not necessary for being with God to be always at church,” he says. “we make an oratory of our heart, wherein to retire from time to time, to converse with Him in meekness, humility, and love…”

from the tenth letter: “He is always near you and with you; leave Him not alone. You would think it rude to leave a friend alone, who came to visit you; why then must God be neglected? do not then forget Him.”

and in perhaps brother lawrence’s most oft-quoted line, and one which i’ll now carry to the cookstove, especially in the harried half-hour when tummies are growling, and what’s in the skillet spews coils of smoke:

“it was observed, that in the greatest hurry of the business of the kitchen, he still preserved his recollection and heavenly-mindedness. he was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even composure and tranquility of spirit. ‘the time of business,’ said he, ‘does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, i possess God in as great tranquility as if i were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.’

surely, i was meant to know the barefooted brother. a fellow as likely to be thunderstruck by the lifeless silhouette of woods in winter, a good soul brought to bended knee by delphinium on the brink of brilliant blue. a reluctant cook who carries on heavenly discourse while the spaghetti scorches in the pot.

Brother_Lawrence_in_the_kitchen

who, pray tell, inspired you this week? 

and before i go, a few more lines from brother lawrence:

“…we ought not be weary of doing little things for the love of God, Who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

“our only business was to love and delight ourselves in God.”

“…his prayer was nothing else but a sense of the presence of God…”

home alone

home alone

dispatch from 02139 (in which the only sounds around here are the ones le cat or moi decide to make…)

the soon-to-be ski boy is meandering up blue highways as i sit typing. he’s in the back seat of the shiny black chariot taking him to the mountain. stowe mountain, precisely. a good three-plus hours north and a tad west of here in quaint vermont.

he’s with the trusty driver, the tall bespectacled fellow we like to refer to these days as “the professor.”

the two of them, and a gaggle of niemans on ski patrol, are leaving behind these ivy-covered confines, for a weekend of — dear patron saint of glued-together bones, be merciful — shooshing down the mountain sides. the tall one won’t be imbibing — in skiing or apres-ski debauchery. his loosey-goosey vertebrae keep him from strapping on and whooshing anywhere, and his generally mild temperament keeps him from long-necked brews and whatever else might be stashed in someone’s traveling cocktail bar.

they’ll all be nestled for the next two nights inside a postcard-perfect inn. the sort of place misters currier and ives might have plucked for one of their easel moments, wherein upon spying the lovely white-clapboard country manse they would have firmly planted tripod with ledge, plopped up canvas, and dabbed away at pretty colors, till the whole tableau was tres fini.

which leaves me home. alone.

let’s rewind, and say that all over again for emphasis: home alone.

that’s me.

yes, indeedy.

for the first time in all these days and weeks and months, for the first time since landing in the whirl of 02139, i shall be sleeping under this roof with not a single someone to elbow me, or hiccup in my ear, or pad into the bedroom with a tummy ache near the midnight. save for the fat old cat, that is. (and since he’s taken to sprawling long and wide and weightily across my pillow in the deep of night, i can’t swear that this will be any sort of unencumbered slumber.)

i am rather dizzy at the notion. can barely decide just what to do. i hear the schlesinger library cooing my name, from over at radcliffe college, where julia childs’ cookery books and letters are squirreled away. and there’s that untouched gifty certificate for painted tootsie-toenails that’s been dozing on my desk for months now. and there is the most scrumptious stack of books that i can read willy-nilly and till the cows come home.

since i’m sans wheels till i pick up a rental sunday morn — when i head up to portland, maine, to visit with my mama, and the sweet new baby boy plus all his peoples —  i made sure i had the pantry stocked. and tonight i’m going out for unending conversation with a glorious longtime friend.

but more than anything, i shall use these holy hours to deep breathe, and let my braincells start and finish one whole thought. why, they might engage in hearty conversation, back and forth and all around, complete with synapse click-click-clicking.

it is so very necessary for some of us to wholly unplug from time to time. to marinate our hearts and souls in the blessed bath of all-alone time. to unfurl our tight-clenched worries. to go off the clock. unplug from every incoming outlet.

to simply be. and see if, somehow, amid the utter silence, we might rediscover our own outlines. sift through the sands of all that’s spilled since last we checked, pluck out the shiny baubles, toss away what weighs us down.

it is the tapestry of textures that makes a weaving beautiful. so, too, a life of variegation, with hustle-bustle hours interrupted by soothing spells of solitude.

i’m one of those creatures — like humpty-dumpty, i suppose — who’s inclined to put myself back together again. as needed.

but an essential ingredient in that equation is time to think aloud. time to shake off all expectations. time to grasp a passing thought, swoop it in my butterfly net, and pause to consider its pattern, paint-dabs, subtleties and intensities.

there are days, i swear, when i flop in bed at night, and can’t remember which sentence fragment belongs to which. not unlike folding laundry, perhaps, when fluffy bundle is hauled from tumble dry, and suddenly you find that you’re the shepherdess of a flock of mismatched socks, all mewing for their missing twins. where, oh where, could ever they be?

and so, i intend in these next 36 hours to stock up, drink in, amble, inhale, breathe — and exhale, too, i do suppose.

i understand how rare this is, and thus how sacred the chance to pluck and choose at whim. on no one’s measure but my own. oh, the riches! to keep the lamplight burning till the wee, wee hours, or whene’er my eyelids call it quits. to eat only when my tummy growls. and only what intrigues me. or, heck, to take a long walk after dark, if i’m so inclined.

for i have no one to answer to for one sweet short spell. and i know just the soul with whom i must catch up: the one i call my very own.

my reading list this weekend likely will begin and end with evelyn waugh’s “brideshead revisited” for dear professor wood (who twice weekly makes me swoon). i spent most of the past week devouring w.e.b. du bois’ “the souls of black folk,” (1903) wherein i found myself weeping over passages like this one i must share here (purely because i promised to share the best of what i trip upon here in this year of living sumptuously). du bois writes:

“Thus it is doubly difficult to write of this period [just post-Emancipation] calmly, so intense was the feeling, so mighty the human passions that swayed and blinded men. Amid it all, two figures ever stand to typify that day to coming ages,—the one, a gray-haired gentleman, whose fathers had quit themselves like men, whose sons lay in nameless graves; who bowed to the evil of slavery because its abolition threatened untold ill to all; who stood at last, in the evening of life, a blighted, ruined form, with hate in his eyes;—and the other, a form hovering dark and mother-like, her awful face black with the mists of centuries, had aforetime quailed at that white master’s command, had bent in love over the cradles of his sons and daughters, and closed in death the sunken eyes of his wife,—aye, too, at his behest had laid herself low to his lust, and borne a tawny man-child to the world, only to see her dark boy’s limbs scattered to the winds by midnight marauders riding after ‘cursed Niggers.’ These were the saddest sights of that woeful day…”

if you need a mighty read, “the souls of black folk” is a classic.

when you stumble upon 36 hours all to yourself, how do you line up the holy hours? 

this nook i’ve come to call home

nook i've come to lovedispatch from 02139 (in which, after 192 days, it makes me wince to think of leaving….)

really, i think, i’m part squirrel. or maybe fat-cheeked chipmunk. certainly from the mammalian order Rodentia. i know, i know. it’s not a pretty picture. those furry little critters that make so many yelp. leap high on stools. lurch for brooms.

but really.

i do exhibit many squirrel-like tendencies. i burrow. i conform whole-bodily to my confines. i’ve been known to overstuff my pantry with twos and threes of things i love — just in case! a squirrel does too. only they call it hoarding. stocking up for winter. i call it making sure i don’t have to dash to the grocery in the wee wee hours, when suddenly an urge for popcorn strikes (see! yet another link between me and the bushy-tailed kernel-loving kind!).

mostly, though, it’s about the burrowing. about boring in, carving tunnels in my cove. making cozy. is not the squirrel the queen of cozy comfy? heck, if you can make the insides of an old oak’s trunk the very place where you can’t wait to scurry at the end of a long day hauling acorns, you are one fine cozy-maker.

and so it is, here in the aerie. where 192 days into this experiment in third-floor living, i can barely consider packing up and leaving without scrunching up my countenance.

i’ve come to love this little place. love the pit-a-pat of soles against the shining planks of maple. love the sunshine streaming in by day, and the moonlight every cloudless night. love the sounds of the city down below, tucked away, not far from harvard square, where just now cardinal and blue jay are out the window carrying on a discourse above the din of all the thinkers strolling by.

i am particularly fond of this little breakfast nook, all bench and cushions, with steam heat pouring up from down below my bum. how fine a configuration is that? to have your undersides steamed like chinese buns?

i sit here by the hour, especially at the dawn. my earthen mug filled high. the morning birds flitting in for a nibble at the feeder. this morning it is particularly quiet. and quiet is a sound i love more than most. so hushed i hear the water drip-drip-dripping from the sink. every once in a while, the gurgle from the french-roast trough. the hum from the fridge.

i leap out of bed before the clock chimes “time to wake,” just so i can steal a few extra minutes — all alone, in cloak of morning light, before the rush begins.

and i can’t help but marvel at the human capacity for burrowing down to joy. for shirking off the parts that make us squirm. for honing in on finding where our hum comes. where comfort rises up, wraps round us, holds us tight.

we are a species — we and our bushy-tailed brethren, yes — who can’t help but toil toward equilibrium. and, hardly content to idle in the neutral zone, we burrow deeper still, down to where the glories bubble up. we find our hum, indeed.

all this from a girl who, just a year ago, was dizzy at the thought of leaving a place that had carved her in the palm of its hand. all this from a girl who 192 mornings ago was clicking snapshots of the old house she was leaving behind, as if she’d not breathe again till she returned. and here i am, humming. knowing my well-worn footpaths in the maple planks. having carved a whole new routine. morning coffee, followed by reading, followed by catching glimpse of sunrise, followed by clomp-clomp-clomp along the cobbled sidewalks, drawing me into lecture halls and classrooms where i nearly purr with pure contentment.

we adapt.

we find joy.

it’s what, as a species, we are wired to do.

i write this because i never cease to be amazed. at this capacity for comfort. at making home wherever we are plopped.

i write this because a friend i love — nay, adore — stands at the brink of just such a translocation. and she is trembling. wondering what she’s doing to her family, up and hauling them across the country, to a faraway place that right now feels oh-so foreign.

i write this because i was that trembling soul. but a wee small voice inside propelled me. whispered louder than all the others: don’t be afraid. just go!

and so, for all these days and weeks and months, we’ve been living the experiment. (and here’s the part where the hallelujahs come, rise up and bring on tears…) i’ve watched my boy become best friends with a kid who can’t afford the hot cocoa in the cafeteria. i’ve heard stories that might make your hairs stand on end. but he takes them in stride because he loves the kid who tells the stories, true stories from a life that’s short on lucky breaks. and i can’t help but know that to have your eyes wide-opened when you’re 11, when you’re smack dab in middle school, is to keep those eyes forever scanning the landscape in whole new ways.

that sweet boy will not go back to our leafy little village taking it for granted, taking anything for granted (so help me, Lord on high). he will not forget his friend who has to step over the drug-dealing in the staircase. or the other stories i can’t tell here.  he will remember how much he loved the street ball in the gym. how the big towering kids loved the scrappy little white boy, my boy. and how he woke up and realized he was truly color blind. and more than comfortable in a united nations classroom.

i write this because i live and breathe contentment these days. pure joy is an hourly intoxicant.

and i wouldn’t have gotten here if i’d let the demons hold me down.

i promise you, my friend, you will purr again. your babies will stretch and pull and some nights, at bedtime, break down in floods of tears. but the morning will come when you are all gathered round the breakfast table, and laughter will rise up. and you’ll all feel oh so deeply home. and you’ll look around at all the wonders that have come your way, and you won’t want to imagine what it would have been like to not know such particular life-defining joys.

i promise you, my friend. we’ve all got a dose of squirrel somewhere down inside.

what are the little joys that make for comfort zones in your long day?

 

turning the page on my little muse

goodbye little musedispatch from 02139 (in which my stretching-by-the-hour muse proclaims independence and right of first refusal…)

it was just a few weeks ago, one night after dinner, when my little fellow was nonchalantly clearing the table, and plopped his plate precipitously over the edge of the counter, threatening to wobble and crash to the depths of the dishwasher down below.

yes, half the plate was securely on the countertop. ah, but the other half, suspended on air and air alone.

seizing this moment of gravity instruction, i chimed: “sweetie, don’t leave the plate there. it could fall.”

to which my young isaac newton circled back, eyed the non-wobbling plate, and crisply replied: “well, it didn’t.”

“but it could,” i tried again, intent on cementing this lesson.

wherein the young thinker, once again, became the teacher.

said he, looking me straight in the eyeballs: “you don’t want to live your life in what-ifs!”

and then he scurried on. and i was left, alone in the kitchen, his words reverberating. making the walls shake. waking up sound-asleep brain cells.

“you don’t want to live your life in what-ifs.”

who is this 11-year-old buddha? is it not true that the heavens send us our teachers in soccer pants and sauce-stained T-shirts?

so struck was i by this kitchen-sink wisdom that i lurched to grab my trusty camera, to record the not-so-tipsy plate, just as he’d left it. so that, as i’ve so often done in the last six of his 11 years, i might etch the lesson here, on the pages of the chair.

but i was caught, mid-click.

he knew what i was up to. and there arose a gentle protest. a declaration of independence.

“mom, you can’t write about me without checking with me first.”

point taken.

so i didn’t write that week about the lesson of not living your life in what-ifs.

though it was a lesson that shot me through and through. because, yes, how often have i not crossed a threshold after ticking up the hundred ways that something might go wrong. because fear undercuts, boxes in, circumscribes, so very many blue highways in the landscape of our lives.

his claim to right of first refusal became an oft-returned-to point of discussion over days that followed. he’d deemed that if he could be first-reader, it might or might not pass the test. i might or might not get to click the “publish” button.

all wholly on the mark. all wholly admirable. and defensible.

and a policy to which i now subscribe.

and, yes, in that moment, i heard the crinkling of yet another page in my life as it turned, as i lifted up the fragile corner, arced it across time and space, and pressed it back, onto the growing stack of past.

my little muse had, for all these years, been the heartbeat of so many meanders here at the table. there was monster fighter, the one about how he armed himself for perilous nights in those fitful shadowed hours not long before he was swallowed up by first grade. there was the a-ha moment where the little black squiggles on the page suddenly, out of the blue, and after much trying, erupted into words, the likes of which he swallowed whole, in starter sentences and paragraphs. there was, most recently, stitching the homesick blanket, in which he wanted more than anything a plane ticket home. and the meander, in particular, that made him stand up and say, excuse me, i have a right to tell my own story of my own life.

it is a struggle many writers meet head on. there are sharp lines in our lives we do not cross. whole continents of heartland we do not explore in print.

it’s why there’s fiction.

being married to a writer, i’ve long known our unspoken pact: i don’t write about his private life, our private life, because it’s his as much as mine. being the mother of a college kid, i’ve known too just how close i can inch toward that tender, fragile, firm, border crossing. i’ve written less and less about him as he’s grown, claimed his own life story.

but my little one, until just now, has been the one whose heart, whose words, whose wonders i couldn’t help but capture.

like a lepidopterist, i’ve flailed my net, and here and there, in daisy fields and shaded coves, in kindergarten classrooms, and on little league playlots, i’ve netted bright-winged moments that were my sweet boy growing up.

moments that otherwise would have escaped, fluttered off to clouds, or tucked away behind a tree limb.

been lost to time and memory.

i’ve long said that more than anything, pull up a chair has been my truest snapshot album. has lassoed in times new roman (the font in which i type) a mother’s deepest felt moments, the charms of six-year-old and seven-year-old lexicon and logic. has been slow-release, unfurling love song.

more than anything, it’s holding up a life — my life, our life — to the light. it’s catching the rainbow shards distilled in every shaft of sunbeam. it’s turning a moment round and round, re-discovering a miracle or magic not seen in first-run.

and along the way, truth be always told, i fell more in love with one particular little fellow than i ever knew i could. it’s not that i didn’t love him through and through and through in real time. it’s just that in putting him on paper, in digging deep to find the words, to record his whims and whirling marvels, i fell in love all over and over and over again. it’s the prestidigitation of the pen.

just this morning, as i petitioned this very musing, as i inquired as we trudged through snow banks and skidded over ice patch en route to where the school bus stops, he generously offered more than compromise: “oh, you can write about me, mom. just not my private life.”

so no more snaps of little boy legs peeking out from under the covers. no more monster fighter garb, bare naked chest and legs. no more stories from the shadows and the aching vessels of his heart. not without assent — of the committee of one. not unless he lifts the “no trespassing” sign.

my little muse is growing up. and he’s the author of his life.

to which the corollary is: the life that’s mine is the one of which i’m allowed to write. and that alone, i’ll mine.

unless permission’s granted.

tipsy plate

for the writers and artists among you, do you too find places in your heart which you know not to trespass, at least not out loud and in public?

dashing to get to audio storytelling class. huge computer snafus this morning. will edit later. thanks, T, for letting me tell a story.

the sweet snap way above is my apple-cheeked boy, caught reading by the light of the double-d battery, long long ago. when he was five, and didn’t mind being the subject of a story.

nose pressed to the window pane

nose pressed to the window

dispatch from 02139 (in which “epic” — yes, epic, say the headline writers — hurri-blizzard blows in off the atlantic, and the winds begin to whistle their warning cry…)

it is a posture that pulls us back to long-ago days, days when you woke up to the cackle of a radio telling you school was closed, when you heard your mama down in the kitchen, not rustling the brown bags of school lunches in the making but rather cranking up the griddle for stay-home vittles.

it’s the posture of nose pressed to the window pane. it’s the posture of waiting. heart pumping. peering into the far-away-but-coming-closer.

it’s the posture of knowing adventure’s tucked behind the not-so-distant cloud. it’s awaiting mama nature. mama nature who, in the end and after all, rules over all her globe and sky, and every once in a while, reminds us of our humble place on earth.

so it is that i sit here, with windows east and south, keeping watch. the sky’s gone sooty gray. all shadow’s slipped away. the bird-seed tube that dangles just beyond the sill is rocking back and forth, making me a wee bit seasick if i stare too long.

this is the perfect perch for storm patrol, peering out beyond the rooftops, through the limbs of trees. i see smoke tendrils twirling up from chimney pots. i’ll soon gasp as tree trunks practice yoga bends.

winds at 85 miles per hour, the weatherman predicts. snows falling at the rate of four inches per hour. tumbling till they pile to three-feet-and-counting.

but, deary me, whooshing air at 85 m.p.h. up against flakes that weigh in at nothingness, it’s the equation for drifts the likes of which i’ve never seen. sounds like being a speck of milk inside a whirring blender. when someone clicks “puree.”

no wonder the sky-readers turned to their thesaurus to pull out a label for this blizzard. at last — after much office to and fro, i imagine — they decided to dub it “epic,” so epic it is, and epic we shall see.

it seems fitting, so fitting, that in this year of living sumptuously we — our little triangle of cambridge explorers — should endure spells of sumptuous weather. why, in just six months, there’s been one hurricane, one earthquake, and now this epic blizzard. good thing i packed my yellow rubber knee-high galoshes. i’ll be out trekking before this day is done.

for it’s one thing to inhale a storm from behind the glass, and wholly another what-the-heck to plant yourself amid the whirls and whoops.

why, you didn’t think life at veritas university would slow for any old avalanche of snow, did you? mais non! classes are marching on, clear through the morning. and at high noon, we’re being called to what promises to be a spine-tingling talk with a mexican journalist who risks her life — and aims to protect her compatriot periodistas — telling the truth about the drug wars that have torn apart her homeland.

for marcela turati, who dodges death threats and machine gun bullets on a daily basis, i can dodge a few flying snowflakes. even if they whirl at never-before-observed velocities.

other than that one arctic exposition, we’re hunkered down for the duration. we’ve all the essentials: popcorn, apples, soup. extra blankets, just in case. a fat cat who loves to curl beside our undulations. we’ve neighbors down below and just across the way, should we need to draw in the wagons — or trade one last drop of milk for one slab of vienna pastry (the doctor down below happens to be a fiendish baker, and the buttery vapors that slink up through the floorboards are enough to have me drooling at his door).

fact is, if you’re going to call yourself a bostonian for the year, you’d better weather a tried-and-true nor’easter’. i’d hate to amble home a pretender, head bowed in shame for having shirked a little tussle with the snow clouds that whirl in off the atlantic.

so far, with 14 minutes till the bewitching hour, there’s not a flake in sight. i’ll sit here for a few more hours, tomes piled to my left, eyes trained on the graying skies, waiting, waiting.

alert to what the heavens offer up today. and tuned in to how the human spirit pitches and dives along with all the whirling, swirling, dumping.

it’s front row to one celestial theatre. and right now, the players must be in the wings, clearing throats, slipping on their costumes. any moment, the curtain’s due to rise…

do you love snow days? odd weather days? what is it about the chance to draw in, simmer kettles of soup, slither into our snuggliest sweaters? three stories off the ground, i feel as if i’m in a tree fort, with the best seat in the house. if it gets outlandishly exciting here, i’ll be back to record the weather dramas. for now, be safe, be warm, and thanks for pulling up a chair.

in the spirit of my beloved helen vendler poetry class, perhaps i ought to dig for a poem to mark this snowy occasion……any submissions out there?

yellow snowy nightduring the night, under the street lamp out my office window….that little bump down there, that’s a car on its way to being buried…

snowy deckand come morning, here’s what befell the back deck. those chairs are hard-edged, with sharp corners. until the snow, they had no undulations. now they do….

the humility of knowledge

humility of knowledge

dispatch from 02139 (in which we recognize our humble stature before the gates of true knowledge…)

class is back in session. and that means my shoulder is sagging from the weight of books. my right hand aches from scribbling, fast as i can. and my whole body is inclined to bow down before the gates of knowledge, and confess how empty a vessel i truly am.

i’d intended to go easy this semester, spend whole days holed up inside this book-lined aerie. cut down on the classes to which i zipped across the leafy harvard yard.

but then the course catalog rolled out. and so too an inkling that this was but a last-chance vault to a long life spent with nose in books.

so why not, i reasoned to my reasonable self, take the hardest, highest bounce off that bouncy leaping board?

why not give it one with-gusto whirl, you and this heady voyage, the one where you get to slither into cushioned seats (for seats are cushioned, oh-so-cushioned, here in harvard halls), yank hard on the itty-bitty writing perch, and open wide for all the learning swirling through the chambers?

convinced, i signed up.

my class list stretched and stretched — and stretched. somehow, i got to seven. and all the books to boot. (which is why my credit-card patrol called this week to see if someone had gotten loose and run amok with my account at the coop, that magnificent university book store where great minds — the professors’ — have curated stacks of books, and even browsing through a class not yours imparts a heady lesson in what tomes are deemed worthy of study.)

and here’s the thing: all week the image that’s floated in my mind is one of standing at the precipice of, say, the grand canyon, tiptoeing out to the edge, where you can see how far and wide that great gulf stretches, yet you can’t begin to make out the nooks and crannies, can’t see beyond the etched granite walls, into coves, up sheer cliffs. and you can’t help but feel so small, so incidental beside such grandeur. such majesty.

and so it is with the magnificent humankind creation, knowledge.

the closer you tiptoe into it, the grander all the vastness appears. the higher, the deeper, the more intricately chiseled.

and that’s where i perch. i am at the brink of something so immense it will take all my life to begin to grasp the flimsiest grasp. so immense it makes me wish for two or three lifetimes to wrap my feeble fist around a simple starter’s course.

i sit in african-american history, jaw-dropped, wondering how i got to my own mid-century and knew so very little. i need to speed-read, speed-think, speed-swallow to catch up on all that i don’t know.

i move to poetry, with helen vendler, that great mother northstar of all that is poetic in america, and i get dizzy. she recites line after line, from poet after poet. she makes it all make sense, makes it feel like for the first time in our lives we’re netting moonbeams and twinkling stars. and then i zip home, and plunk oh-so-slowly over the tomes that will last me a lifetime. i flip from poem to dictionary. i scribble words — and lines — that send me to jupiter and mars.

i even got ultra-brave and signed up for “postwar american and british fiction” with james wood, whom some have called “the greatest living literary critic,” and gosh-darn if i’m not going to feel adrift, but i’ll not stand ashore for fear of owning up to my sorry unschooled self.

what point in learning if not to start from scratch, or close to scratch, and swallow, chew, inhale, imbibe with gusto?

i’ve just been struck, at every turn this week, with how it is that as you step into the canyon, you begin to truly grasp its immensity, and your own itty-bitty dismissible stature. and isn’t it paradoxical — blessedly, beautifully paradoxical — how the deeper you thrust yourself into learning, the humbler you become?

you know so little, there is so infinitely much to learn.

it makes me sad for all the hubris in this country. all the clutter on the airwaves, and cyber-waves, of folks who’re sure they know everything because they read one blip as they went to click their email. lord help us, all.

a good dose of humility might be a fine prescription for the rampant cultural ails. all the know-it-alls might do well to ask, “just how much do i really know? and might i learn a wee bit more?”

but mostly it comes back to the simple posture of laying down our sorry selves at the time-worn feet of Infinite Wisdom. of assuming the age-old pose of acknowledging that we’re but empty vessels, and we are begging to be filled.

vowing: we’ll do the work, the fine act of turning pages, scanning wisdom, and breathing in the accumulated knowledge of all those who’ve trekked this way, and picked up a thing or three along the way.

we’ll dedicate our days to the holy work of trying to grow in knowledge, yes, and wisdom, absolutely.

do you often feel small, oh so small, in the face of all there is for us to understand, to come to know? and do you make lifework of learning? if so, what’s one book we should all add to our reading list?

one last fling

one last fling

dispatch from 02139 (in which….well, let’s not give away the whole story. not just yet anyway….)

alas, it’s not what you think. not here anyway. i know, i know. the more common usage of that flouncy noun, the “fling,” would be one in which all caution was hurled to the wind, and tumbling would occur.

like i said: not here.

for starters, the tall one is off being mr. professor this week, nowhere to be seen, for days and days on end. and when he trundles home, he’s bleary-eyed. or interested in talking only of the gates of harvard yard. not exactly pillow mumble.

and here, instead of silky sheets a la fling, there’s an afghan. a hand-crocheted one, mind you. and the cozy corner of a couch. and, most of all, a tall stack of pages to be turned.

alas, the fling of which i type is the one that lured me for months. seductive, yes. sexy, hardly. it springs upon that settled-in corner of the futon-couch, looking east toward the atlantic (though obscured by towers tall, a bumper crop sprouted across the hills of cambridge). the one where the lamp glows golden, and where the stack of books only grows and grows.

for the whole first semester, i dreamed of a day when nothing would call my name, nor insist on my appearance, nothing other than the corner of the couch.

and even though we’ve had a full six weeks away from lecture halls and seminar tables, it’s only been the last few days — days when the minus sign was hauled out of storage so thermometers could flash the bitter cold — that i’ve been nestling there where i so longed to be.

it’s taxing, this flinging. it goes like this: first, you shoosh everyone out the door quick as quick can be (so much so that they might wonder if there’s a toxic waste from which they’re being shielded), scrub the breakfast plates, pour the last of the coffee, then dive onto the couch, bottom first. unfurl the afghan, pull it tight around your chin. play eenie-meenie-minie-mo. with all the books. will it be a poet? a memoirist? or yet another poet?

fueled by pots of tea, and polished apples, it goes like this till sundown. all afternoon, i trace the disappearing light, as it trails from living room to dining room to kitchen, before slipping off the planet’s edge, making way for nightfall.

and here’s what i’ve discovered: i’m not so good at making like a lotus, knees akimbo, toes tucked under bum. i get the itches, oh, ’round half past 3. start looking up, thinking about popcorn. wondering if i should start to chop an onion, make like i’m the hausfrau fixing vittles for the clan.

like so many things in life that from afar look glorious, all sparkly on the shelf where we can’t reach, the fact is, once we’ve held them in our hands, we see the bumps and odd spots. a glorious afternoon’s reprieve is most glorious when it’s an interlude amid the madness.

when, instead, it’s the beginning and the end, when there’s no variegation in between, well, it all turns rather blah. even when the pages come in ooohs and ahhs.

and, whaddyaknow, like magic, i’ve come crashing to the end of this dalliance. i’ve only one last round, after this afternoon’s errands are wiped off the slate. and perhaps today, as the clouds come out to play, and the snowflakes start to tumble, i’ll savor that hallelujah romp under the afghan, me & all my books.

come monday, we’re back at it again, with a whole slate of classes filling up my days. i’d toyed with the idea of cutting back, of not carrying quite the load as fall semester. but then, i picked up the course catalog, and on and on, i clicked. carried on like a hungry girl in an ice cream shop, who couldn’t bear to pass up one more scoop.

sad truth is, in a mere four months, the sparkly shoes get kicked behind, the coach returns to pumpkin. this year of thinking sumptuously, it up and poofs! all gone! back to scrubbing chimneypots.

so, come round two of this exercise in fantasy academics, i’ve got my eye on this little roster:

monday mornings, i’ll get to work with noted historian henry louis gates, as i whirl through “intro to african-american studies.” then i’ll straddle two continents as i dive into “english 64 — diffusions: american renaissance and irish revival,” reading dickinson, emerson, hawthorne, melville, thoreau and whitman, alongside joyce, o’casey, synge and yeats. my cymbal crash will be mondays, wednesdays and fridays at noon when the northstar of poetry, helen vendler, waltzes into the lecture hall and barely takes a breath for the next 55 minutes, waxing poems, poets and poetry in a standing-room-only class titled (not so poetically) “aesthetic and interpretive understanding 20.”

on tuesdays, i’m dabbling in trees, forests and global change over at the science center. and washing that down with sacred and secular poetry. wednesdays i repeat monday but add a two-hour block of fairy tales and folklore with the jaw-dropping maria tatar (whose class i am already begging to enter). and so it’ll go, straight on through friday afternoons.

so my old couch will grow lonely. go cold. and i’m guessing, like any love that’s lost, i’ll soon enough hear that old stack of wood and cushion coo my name. it’ll sound sweet, seductive. and some rainy vernal afternoon, i might give in to the temptation, and curl up once again.

but for now, after two unbroken days of sitting and turning pages, i’m thinking a lecture hall, filled with laptops, and kids click-clicking away, that’s my new rendition of an afternoon’s fine fling.

silk sheets not included.

so, if you could pick one unencumbered afternoon to do wholly as you please, what might be on the list? and would you guess that it would ever, could ever, grow old? or have you found a tune that you could hum for a long long while? 

the reading list, in case you’re interested: 

“several short sentences about writing,” by verlyn klinkenborg. (heavenly!)

“on moving: a writer’s meditation on new houses, old haunts and finding home again,” by louise de salvo. (a gift; just diving in. looks quite heavenly.)

“birdology: adventures with a pack of hens, a peck of pigeons, cantankerous crows, fierce falcons, hip hop parrots, baby hummingbirds, and one murderously big living dinosaur,” by sy montgomery. (recommended right here at the table by our no. 1 turtle lover and aquarial expert.)

“good prose: the art of nonfiction,” by tracy kidder and richard todd.

“facts about the moon,” by dorianne laux. (a wild book of poetry.)

“magical journey: an apprenticeship in contentment,” by katrina kenison. (arrived in this week’s mail from a literary editor friend, who remembered that i liked kenison’s earlier works).

“prayers of a young poet: rainer maria rilke,” translated by mark s. burrows. (my beloved landlord and guiding light, in preparation for a rilke retreat next weekend at glastonbury abbey on boston’s south shore.)