Dearest and Closest,
A few days ago, while Dan, Master M., Hopper and I were out walking, we lifted our heads to hear, what we assume, were the last of the Canadian Geese going south for the winter. “Honk, honk, honk” they sounded as they flew courageously through the dusk. “Honk, honk, honk” Master M. called back. I whispered with an intensity as if my own life depended on it: “Fly safely; get there; survive.”
Over the last few days, the temperature up here in Maine has finally gotten cold enough to make our cheeks red and our breath puff with importance as we march about doing our errands and exercises, shuttling children to and from various activities. The darkness surrounds us most of the day it seems. And although at other times of my life I’ve felt the darkness was my foe, these days I pull it is as a warm embrace and let myself cocoon in the softness of lamps and dark corners; candlelight and wood smoke. Also, Master M. has become infatuated with a little ceremony we’ve begun of lighting a candle at bedtime and saying a few words to what Dylan Thomas called “the close and holy darkness.” He gets almost giddy in expectation of the candle and having this thoughtful pause where we stop and say thank you for a few small things and a few larger ones and then say, “Amen.”
Yesterday we ventured out in temperatures that hovered just below twenty-degrees Fahrenheit to get our first Christmas tree. Dan and I have never had one before—we’ve had wreaths decked with small ornaments of birds or a vase with some boughs stuck in it and some lights draped over them. In Los Angeles, in our tiny apartment and with no money to buy a tree, Dan drew a Christmas tree on a piece of paper and hung it over Hopper’s bed. And as long as Dan and I have lived in Maine we’ve done a Christmas tree with my mother—gone out into the woods behind her house and thinned a tree from a small copse and decorated it in her library.
But now, our son is two, which means that Christmas is just about the most exciting thing going down in our house (and any house in the neighborhood which has put out lights or decorations). So, yesterday, we braved the cold and found our way to a U-Pick farm in Cumberland. Master M. was very excited about the frozen ice on the path that could be crunched under his big pack boots and he ran ahead of us, bundled rather like the younger brother in that movie A Christmas Story, who says to his mother who has bundled him beyond recognition “I can’t put my arms down!” We pondered tree after tree—all lovely—but kept walking and discussing the merits of this one or that one. Finally we took a little side path as a last ditch effort. Dan turned to our son and said, “Mommy’s on a mission.” I was sort of walking like I thought I was General Patton—shoulders up, saw in hand. And then I saw it; Next to an old rotted out log was an imperfect tree with a sparse backside and a very tall pointy top. I said, “Hey Dan, how about this one?”
“It looks a little thin in the back, Cait”
Maybe I was getting tired, but I was suddenly truculent and wanted to get this tree and have it done. “Who cares, we can put that side in front of the window.” We had planned to move a heap of Master M’s toys in our living room to make room in our apartment for this tree ,which would soon become the center of our universe.
Dan looked at me curiously. He does this sometimes—tries to sum up the level of my commitment to a subject. Then he often ploughs ahead knowing full well I might make some noise about it.
“Ok, let’s look some more,” I said. So we kept walking. But we came back, again, to this tree. And, then, suddenly, Dan said, “You know what? You’re right. This our tree—I can’t explain it but it is.” And then, as he began sawing he stopped and said, “Wait, Cait----look.” There, nestled in the branches was the most perfectly crafted bird’s nest—probably long abandoned by a warbler. Every piece of grass, or leaf or twig was so carefully knitted in with the other. That tiny nest, so ordinary in the lives of birds, and yet so extraordinary, made us feel graced by something larger than ourselves.
“That’s why it’s our tree,” I said.
“Yep, that’s our tree, “ said Dan.
I carried the nest back to the car and held it carefully as we drove home. Later, before dinner, we decorated the tree. We don’t have many ornaments and I’d bought some horrible colored lights that looked almost neon (which Master M. adored), but we put on some Christmas music and began unwrapping the few things we had. Master M. was squealing with excitement and he kept saying, rather like Tiny Tim, “Master M. having fun. Daddy having fun, Mommy having fun. Hoppy having fun.” And then he’d start the list again.
When it was done we took the nest and placed it carefully on the top branch as our “star.” Then we sat down to look, our son saying over and over, ”Sit and enjoy the Christmas Tree,” his mouth open with wonder and awe.
This is why any of us do any of our traditions—for our children. And because, also, our kids relight the kid in us--our new memories are now peopled by their dear, innocent faces. This is the real light we bring into our homes in a time of darkness and, also, into our hearts.
Every time Dominique Browning posts a new, thoughtful, inspiring blog on her Slow Love Life or my friends Jess or Andrea post new blogs (see links below) I go “Ugh! I’m a failure at this blogging thing!” I used to do it all the time. I was inspired to write daily and to share. Then I started writing a book and the book and the young child took over everything. Now I’m exhausted. And I feel I have no ideas about anything—I’m unmoved to write most of the time. I want to read, I want to watch movies, I want to sort my healthcare receipts—I want to do anything but put my ass in the chair.
I try to remind myself that it’s actually hard to sit down and write sentences—that everyone needs a break. I remember a story I once heard about Nancy Franklin, one of my favorite writers for The New Yorker who writes about television, and how she has such a hard time getting her sentences just like she wants them that she will stay up, blocked, for days on end (I’ve never fact checked this—so don’t quote me!) until she gets it right.
So here I am. Back again.
And I wanted to firstly tell those of you who wrote in your stories about your lives, THANK YOU. I love reading about other lives out there—and I know how hard it is to write down one’s own personal story. Send me more. Update me. I want to know how the move-in went with one reader’s girlfriend; I want to know about another’s fourth child; Jennifer how did turning forty go? (And yes, Susan Hand Shetterly is my mother and her recent book was Settled in the Wild) You can read these under the comments section of my blog. They are wonderful reads, too!
Secondly I will be posting a new blog tonight—later. I read everything out loud to Dan before I send it out into the world—he is my ears, and, often, my conscience and better brain. So, after my son is quietly snoozing reindeer dreams, I will put something back out there.
I’m stepping back up to the plate. Starting today.
It's snowing tonight. And it seems like it's been dark all day.
Lately I haven't felt like writing--there's too much to say, too much going on and, somehow, just the mere fact of having a book coming out makes me stop. Do I say it this way or that way? Should I say this or that? Should I even write anything or am I too tired to write another word? My confidence is wavering.
I think it's all the stuff that happens before a book comes out--the early press inquiries, the fact checking, the waiting and watching and listening while other people read the book and make their comments or judgments. It's excruciating.
And yet it's also so exciting.
In the meantime my real life goes on with a husband and son and dog and the large and small battles we must all fight in order to continue on with our lives. It's an odd paradox to be actively living your personal life while you wait for what you wrote of your personal life to come out between two covers. And yet I must stay present in the here and now because this, what's going on today in front of me, is my now. What I wrote about in my book is already departed. Remembering this is the trick, otherwise I get myself bunched up into a ball of worry.
So I'm writing tonight to pick up our dialogue here. Because a blog like this is really a dialogue. Tell me something about your lives. Tell me something true. I'm here.
I was talking yesterday to my editor, Barbara, about how we've created a world for ourselves--and are also victims of worldwide circumstance-- in which we are somehow caught in a swallowing riptide of planetary pain. These days we are faced with a crushing financial recession and the real and horrible crisis to not only the animals and wildlife in the Gulf, but also the people whose lives have been disastrously altered; two wars that are ongoing despite predictions that continued involvement will have little positive outcome and now more American troops are on their way to South Korea; poverty, wars and pain across the globe. How do we take a second and process even one of these things when our phones are ringing and we're getting texts while our Facebook pages are up and blinking at us and Twitter is sending us another message about Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan? How do we even think about the Gulf and the fact that people have not only lost their entire livelihoods from the destruction of the Gulf waters, but many many people are devastatingly sick from the use of Corexit, the chemical BP put in the waters to submerge the oil? How do we pay attention when we have to figure out how to scrape enough money together for not only Thanksgiving dinner but the rest of the week?
I don't know any answers to these questions, but I do know this: We can stop. We can pause today. We can shut down our computers and not rush. We can turn off our cell phones and listen to a CD (maybe dig out an old LP of the song "'Tis a Gift to Be Simple'?) while we baste our turkeys. We can take a minute to breath--not just for ourselves--but together for all of the pain, all of the suffering and all of the joy. We are in this together. We truly are.