Thrilling: A Series of Vignettes Inspired by Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes

On my pink two-wheeler, I coast down a steep ramp off an overpass, ahead of my family. Flying down, and picking up speed, I’m gripped by both thrill and fear. What happens at the bottom? Things are moving fast, the leafy trees are green blurs. I find myself on the ground, with both knees opened and blood pouring out.  I probably cried. I definitely had to finish the ride home, trailing behind my family now. 
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A few years later, in a new neighborhood, I do a short run down a dirt hill that leads into a cul-de-sac, this time on a ten speed road bike. The neighborhood kids and I run down, and drag the bikes back up, and run down again. Coming down off the hill, I deftly turn into the circle and coast around before heading back up the hill. No bloody knees but the same thrill. 
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Many more years later, I ride up onto the George Washington Bridge approach to the pedestrian path, huffing and puffing up a minor ascent until it flattens out somewhat and I can enjoy the view of the mighty Hudson stretched out below, snaking its way north and south, as far as the eye can see. I crest the bridge and start the descent into Fort Lee, following a pack of riders in this charity ride. It’s not such a big hill and I relax a little. Then, comes a climb up to the start of a route that takes us through Englewood. I stop at the top of the hill, look down at the long slope unfurling before me, take a deep breath to gather my nerve and take off, not sure where this hill is going to end. Always, the thrill. 
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2004. In a sleepy coastal town in Ecuador, popular with surfers, I borrow a bike of questionable safety from the hostel while my friends sleep. I head off down the road to seek out a dirt hill we had driven past the day before. As soon as I saw that hill, I knew I wanted to ride down it. I huffed and puffed my way to the top, on this crappy bike that probably hadn’t been tuned up ever. At the top, I prepared for descent. From that vantage point, I could see that the hill was deeply and erratically rutted which gave me pause. But 24 year olds have a lot of confidence, and they feel invincible besides. And I had to get back down anyway. I took off, going slow and then picking up speed as I lost my trepidation. Then, I was going too fast. I lightly squeezed the brakes  in an attempt to slow down, but of course, of course, the brakes were shot. I leaned back, letting one foot dangle down to slow my descent. I hit a rut and I flew over the handlebars, landing with a sickening thud, my temple bouncing off the ground. I lay there, sprawled out and very still, wondering if anything was broken, besides my dignity. I gingerly picked myself and examined myself for damage. Bloody knees. Bloody elbows. But I can walk. I push the bike down the rest of the way, and drag myself back to the hostel. I return the bike, the hostel owners gasping and fretting over me. I wave them off. Back in the room, a stream of f-bombs comes pouring out of my mouth, waking my friends from their hungover stupor. I look in the mirror and realize why the hostel owners had gasped. My very first black eye. 

Thrilling, yes. 




This post was inspired by Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes, a memoir of her return to her roots in the South. Join From Left to Write on April 30th as we discuss Under Magnolia. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links. 

On the Outside, Looking In.

http://thinkingchild.org.uk

My eyes got watery, on the verge of tears, as I sat there, stone-faced, willing myself to not succumb at that moment to what I was feeling. Frustration? Loneliness? Isolation.

All of it.

And I felt stuck, having realized too late that THIS was not going to work. I tried to appear as though I were listening intently to the readers I couldn’t see.

Oh, everyone is chuckling. I’ll chuckle, too. 

Oh, everyone is clapping. It must be over. I’ll clap, too. For a different reason. 

I’m working hard here but my gaze inevitably travels, and with it, my attention. I study the covers of books on the shelves around me. I stare into space. My fingers itches to open a book, to pick up a pen, to do anything but sit here and pretend I fit in. I feel paralyzed. It would be rude to just get up and leave with no explanation. And I’m certainly not about to put my hand up and request that we all sit facing each other. I’m loathe to invite pity of any kind.

So, I sit and bear it, willing myself through an hour and half of hearing, but not understanding.

Am I glaring? I hope not. 

I don’t begrudge any of these people the privilege of hearing. I just want the same privilege. I look down in my lap, and look up again, hoping that my expression is friendlier. But I feel my face harden, almost grimacing.

For god’s sake, are we done yet?

Finally, I get the cue that we are wrapping up. I put on my coat, and wait until it seems that it’s finally, finally over, then I bolt for the door, saying goodbye to no one, and knowing I’ll never come back.  Because, anyway, as I was sitting there feeling sorry for myself and drowning in my internal monologue, I realized that I don’t want this kind of workshop anyway, where we write for twenty minutes, spend an hour and half listening to people read, then get critiqued on something written off the cuff. It’s absurd, if you ask me.

So, that solves that problem. I have a legitimate, non-deafie excuse to never do that again, and have saved myself the trouble of sticking my neck out, of being the one that asks everyone else to change, to uproot, to adjust, to adapt. In this world, that’s my burden.

Where’s the Menu?

Oh, yeah…where’s my menu? I didn’t post one last week either. But I have a good excuse…I promise.

I.
Went.
Back.
To.
Work.

Okay, yeah, it’s only part-time but it’s a huge change for our family in terms of our day-to-day operations and I’m still ironing out the kinks and getting settled.

This didn’t really come out of nowhere, though. It just moved fast. I applied for a bunch of school-based, non-teaching positions in my area over the summer. I was called in to interview at a school in the next town over from me, and I was offered the job the same day. This was two Fridays ago. Since last week was the high holy days, I requested a start date of September 29th, this past Monday.  So, yeah, this week has been nuts. I’m working twenty hours-three full school days- but I’m out of the house early and it’s nearly dinnertime by the time I round up the kids and get home.

Clearly, I need a new plan for keeping house and home. My husband takes up his share of slack when he gets home but the day-to-day operations fall to me, pretty much. More on that later when I get my act together.

In the meantime, I have a little office that is all mine. It was a little drab but my sister sent me flowers today at work!! Much improved.

The Crossroads

I confess that I am not yet finished with this month’s From Left To Write book. It’s amazing how much reading slows down when a third child is thrown into the mix… But in any case, I’ve read enough of The Cartographer of No Man’s Land to know that I like the book. Some good themes have emerged in the few chapters I’ve read so far but the one that speaks to me most is fate. As usual, I am drawn to the idea that the universe has a plan for us, and we can question it, we can try to subvert it, but what will be, will be. That is not to say there is only one direction laid out for us. There are many… I apologize in advance for the trite and corny analogy but life is kind of like a Make Your Own Adventure book. (Told you so. I’m very sorry!)
It’s not that every decision I make is fated, but that fate has brought me to the crossroads and what lies ahead is meant to be, even if I can’t see that far into the future. I confessed to my sister last week that when my husband and I finally sold our apartment, we realized that we could’ve moved back to Western Mass. In this crossroads, there was a sign pointing to Redding, Connecticut and another one pointing to Northampton, Massachusetts. We chose Redding, or maybe Redding chose us. I don’t really know. But now, after the fact, I look around sometimes and say to myself, “I live in Connecticut. Connecticut.” I never in a million years would’ve thought I’d end up here. I heard stories about Georgetown (a section of Redding), from my mother, growing up but it was an abstract place, a far away place, and it was in Connecticut, of all places. Slowly but surely, we’re mapping out our new life here. We’re still not home– a rental can never really be home but we’ll come to that crossroads soon enough, I’m sure.
But here I am. Here we are. Raising our children in a place where wood smoke curls out of chimneys, the sun rises over a foggy marsh, deer dart across the yard, the pheasants leave long trails in the snow and gunshots echo across the wetlands.  Oh, Connecticut.

This post was inspired by The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by P.S. Duffy. Angus enlists in the Nova Scotia WWI regiment and travels Europe to search for his missing in action best friend and brother-in-law. Along the way Angus discovers more than he ever wanted to know. Join From Left to Write on November 14 as we discuss The Cartographer of No Man’s Land.  As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Thinking in Lists #2

  1. I’m working on a blog post about living up to our own ideals of parenting but can’t quite figure out how to end it. It’s verging on rambling. 
  2. For some reason, when I steal someone else’s (read: my mother’s or my sister’s) NYT magazine to do the crossword, I can do a lot of it but when I deign to buy my own like I did today, I get blocked. 
  3. I made paneer tonight. I’m a little nervous about how it tastes. LOL. 
  4. My bedtime reading right now is Square Foot Gardening. My sister and I have started some vegetables (spinach, swiss chard, snap peas and broccoli) in a cold frame but frost doesn’t end here until May, at least. Hard to be patient! Oh well. Plenty of time then to clean up the garden and get some compost tilled into it, and lay out the squares. 
  5. Speaking of gardens, my friend NJ posted this link on Facebook yesterday and not a moment too soon!: http://www.onehundreddollarsamonth.com/
  6. We took full advantage of the Spring-ish weather today and hung out at New Pond Farm, with my sisters, one of whom drove up from Brooklyn for a visit. 
  7. This is my favorite picture from today; my sister and Stella having a little chat. A few more pictures here

Winter’s Last Hurrah

I swear, it is just a coincidence that my last blog post was written during a blizzard. We didn’t have a blizzard today but Winter did get one last wallop in, dumping ten plus inches on us. In fact, it’s still snowing. That picture is from 7am this morning, when we already had 9 inches and it is 3pm right now. So, do whatever math you want.

  1.  I have another commission for Wake Robin, the small shop, formerly of Briarcliff Manor, that sold my crayon rolls last year. Megan moved shop to Croton and ordered some crayon rolls for her Spring opening. 
  2. Kim Werker, besides being my awesome camp counselor back in the day, is a writer and all-around creative person. In her last newsletter, she proposed a creative exercise: write her a letter, describing a fear regarding your own creativity. After days of thinking about it, I finally went ahead and wrote her the letter. If she talks about my letter on her blog, I’ll share the link with you all. In the meantime, take up the challenge yourself, or at the very least, subscribe to Kim’s newsletter! Kimagination Station Internet Funtimes 
  3. Today is the International Women’s Day. To honor the day, Pathways Togo published two stories, written by RCPVs that did their service in Togo, and now work with Pathways Togo: The Strength of Afi, by Danielle Naugle, a board member and Dada: The Future of Togo, written by Tamara Mack, our senior coordinator, based in Togo. 
  4. Last month, I took The Practice of Writing with Alice Bradley, the author of Finslippy. Registration is now open for the third session and I recommend it, if you want to get started on a regular writing practice. 
  5. Speaking of writing, I just finished On Writing by Stephen King. I have never read any of his books, because the one or two movies I’ve seen scare me enough. But what a great book! The book had me laughing out loud, and I loved his practical, straightforward advice on getting down to the business of writing. 
  6. Speaking of reading, I’m currently reading Raising Cubby by John Elder Robinson. I’ll be writing about the book a little more next week, when I do my post for From Left to Write but one of the reasons I signed up to read the book is that I’m always interested in the parenting experiences of parents with “challenges.” The author has Asperger’s and writes about raising his son, who also has Asberger’s. I’ve been trying, as usual, to pay attention to how being deaf affects my parenting, especially as the girls get older. 
I’m out of steam. Someday, I’ll post something more than a list and pictures. Someday. (Actually, next week, when I write about Raising Cubby…)

Twenty Thirteen

Goals. I got ’em. Last year, inspired by a friend, I made a list of goals for 2012 and updated it once or twice throughout the year, as a note on Facebook. I had to force myself to go back and look at the list, since it had been quite a few months since I updated it. I wasn’t sure that I had done well or even, not so bad. Needn’t have worried! I definitely did better than I thought!
And now for this year, which I’m sharing here instead of just on Facebook:

  1. Creative Goals
    • Get an idea, then do it. Basically, follow through on my ideas instead of sitting on them and feeling bad about it. 
    • Practice uninhibited writing. I’ve signed up for an online writing course to help me with this goal! 
  2. Household Goals
    • Organize bedroom closet
    • More regular housekeeping 
    • Grow a kitchen garden
  3. Professional Goals
    • Acquire one new writing client
    • Take a certification course
  4. Personal Goals
    • Use my gym membership 2-3x/week
  5. Family Goals
    • Work with girls on cleaning up after themselves
    • Earlier bedtimes (This feels especially important, the closer we get to the BIG K!)
    • Go camping/hiking 2x a month between May and August. 
If I had to pick a word for 2013, it would be ACTION. It’s time to stop thinking about doing things and actually start doing them. 
Also, how awesome is this crew?
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Bryer Photography, Albany, NY

A Firefly Without a Light

This afternoon, alone in the car, driving to pick up Alice from school and listening to Runaway Train, my eyes welled up and I was overwhelmed by sadness. The sorrow just washed over me, and I couldn’t fight back the tears now running down my face. I thought about the little six year old boy who died in the arms of a beloved teacher, and how his mother wrote that knowing this gave her consolation. But I thought about the other 18 children who died in no one’s arms but their own.

And I thought about Luis, a former student, who was shot outside his home after nearly making an escape from his killers. I cried for the light that I had seen in Luis, the hope that his charm and his smarts would be enough to survive the streets he couldn’t seem to stay away from.
I also thought about the little boy I used to babysit who grew into a young man that murdered his mother in a fit of madness. My heart aches when I think about the burden he will carry for the rest of his life and I pray that he will have the strength to shoulder it.
And I cried because now, more than ever, I need to believe that there is good amidst evil, a reason to believe that there is more good than bad in this world. I thank the universe everyday for all that I have. 
{How you can help Newtown: Memorial Donations for Sandy Hook Victims}
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Sharing.

“I always want more,” my friend Ann told me, about my blog posts. I wanted to ask, “what more? more what?” but I never got around to it. The truth is, I like to write and I like to share but I don’t like to share a lot or share everything. My life is so entwined with the lives of others’ and I feel… weird about writing about details that involve not just me, but others, too. It feels like an invasion of privacy and also, I am pathologically afraid of judgment.
I want to put myself out there but I fear judgment, a lack of understanding. I have surprisingly thin skin. You’d think I wouldn’t, that being teased mercilessly or having not a lot of friends growing up would’ve given me thicker skin. But it’s done the opposite. When I find acceptance, I want to keep it that way. I am loathe to do anything that would take that away. Sometimes, I wonder if I should give people more credit, if I should give myself more credit.
I really admire people that are able to put their whole selves out there, writers that are not afraid to tell their story. I wonder how they do it. I wonder if they ask permission first from everyone in their lives, or if everyone just knows that being friends or being related to a writer makes you fair game. And yes, I’m not afraid to call myself a writer. It’s one of the few things that I can do well, but it’s also something I could better if I could bring myself to share more.
And the thing is, I could just journal all this privately, and wouldn’t have to worry about what people think or make anyone mad or feel bad. I won’t lie, though. I like to have an audience. What writer doesn’t? I like the opportunity for engagement, I like seeing my words out there, even if they lack substance sometimes.
I’ve thought a lot about not blogging at all, just shutting the whole thing down, getting off Twitter and Pinterest and whatever other social media outlet I waste time with. In the beginning, social media sites like Flickr and Twitter were relatively small communities and it was easy to connect with people (heck, that’s how I met Henry!) But now, the communities are large and have become little more than marketing tools for people with ad-supported blogs or other businesses. Sure, I follow a lot of interesting people on Twitter but I have nothing of myself to contribute and I wonder if I wouldn’t get the same information if I just read the news everyday. I don’t even use Pinterest for social networking. I just think it’s a neat way to clip ideas from all over the internet and have them all in one place, and accessible from wherever I am.
That said, I’m probably not going anywhere. I guess I don’t mind being an observer and I like to keep tabs with what’s going on out there. But it’s in here that I’m more concerned with. I think there’s a fine line between sharing and oversharing, and I’m confident that I know where that line is. I just need to summon the courage to toe that line.