This week, the sun finally returned, and it was glorious. I spent three mornings in a row working in our yard, reveling in the glory that is morning gardening on a mild, sunny day: getting my hands in the dirt, feeling sweat trickle down the small of my back, knowing that at night my body is going to be the right kind of tired.
I spent the first morning releasing root-bound plants from their pots. They reminded me of my life before. Before this marriage, this home, days filled with this kind of work. After freeing the plants from their clay prisons, I put them directly into the ground, where their roots will have room to roam, to weave themselves into soil I have amended with compost. Isn’t it funny how garbage and shit is a thing that can help flowers grow taller and bloom brighter, filling in their leggy stems with glossy leaves?
This weekend Cane and I celebrated our second anniversary. That seems a silly milestone, a pittance of time, a meaningless marker in the story we’re living. We have known each other for more than 20 years, and I don’t know how to measure our time together, how to measure us. There have been so many iterations and mutations of us. I cannot remember when I first met him and cannot say when we first became a couple. I mean, I can give you a year, but the line of crossing over from one thing to the other was fuzzy, and now drawn so long ago that it’s become quite faded. Even I can’t see it clearly. Years after that, there were the years we weren’t a couple but were still friends. Still loved each other. We were each still the person the other called when they really needed a person. Later, we became a couple again, but again I cannot give you a date that a line was crossed. It was something we grew back into tentatively. With all that, we were not legally married until two years ago. I want to say that, perhaps, an anniversary is about a lack of fuzziness–that it the marker of a clear line between one state of togetherness and another–but, even after we crossed that line we did not live together as husband and wife. That did not happen until several months after we became husband and wife.
So, the official anniversary seems a bit of a contrivance, but we marked it anyway. It was a good excuse to treat ourselves to our favorite things: walks, naps, good food, long talks, gardening, time at home together.
The traditional second anniversary gift is cotton, which brings to mind bed linens or fine stationery. We decided to buy ourselves plants for the garden. Close enough, we think. Cotton is a plant growing in the ground before we transform it to meet our needs. We bought herbs, strawberries, native perennials, and annuals: flavor, sustenance, longevity, and bright, fleeting color.
Friday was one of my favorite days of the year: Power-washing day. Every spring there is a day when we bring the power-washer out to clean the backyard patio and sidewalk, and this year it was Friday, the third day in a row of morning gardening.
For some reason, this year, before I began, I told myself that maybe the patio didn’t even need washing. It didn’t look very dirty. Maybe just in a few spots. Then I began, and I could see how wrong I’d been.
This is the thing I love about white space: How it helps us see. It’s only when I create white space on the patio that I can fully appreciate the story winter has written on our home. As I twirled the water nozzle over the concrete canvas, making designs, I thought about all the things for which white space is essential: poems, graphic design, architecture. A garden, a marriage, a life. I thought about how, sometimes, I love white space for what it reveals, for what it shines a light on, and other times I love it for itself. There are times when the clear blank space–not the dark matter it weaves itself through–is the thing of beauty, is the art, is the point of it all.
When is spring going to come? It’s a question I’ve heard repeatedly in recent weeks.
Last Monday, as I drove in the dark to pick my daughter up from work, rain pounding my windshield, I had a moment of disorientation. It felt like a December night, and I was suddenly unmoored from calendar time. Was it still winter? No, I reminded myself, putting down an anchor: It’s April. It’s spring.
The next day, as I left the house wearing my heavy coat (still, in April) as protection from the continuing cold, grumbling to myself about spring’s late arrival this year, something in the yard caught my attention. I stood and looked at our garden, really seeing it for the first time in what felt like weeks. I could see that the grass is growing again, the trees are budding, and color has returned to the landscape.
Oh, it’s really not winter anymore, I thought. These cold, wet days so late in the year are spring. This is what spring is.
The next day, while I was visiting a friend up on the mountain, walking along a road in a place I once lived, snow fell. Spring snow.
This week I have been thinking about seasons, about climate, about change, about aging, about what it means to be a woman in our culture. About seeing how things really are, as opposed to how we think they should be. About loss and grief and hope. And I wrote this:
Like a woman scorned
Spring does not care if last night felt like December, if you had to turn the windshield wipers on high and still could not see the line separating your lane from another’s.
This is who she is now.
She is here, here in the cold water dripping from fisted cherry blossom buds; in the green, green clover choking out even greener grass; in the fern fronds curled like snakes under a willow that’s about to weep into bursting leaves.
Her timetable is indifferent to yours.
She will not blow a warm breath across the back of your neck because you are so tired of the wrong kind of shivers.
If you cannot see her, cannot love her, go inside and do what you do: stoke your fires, turn up the heat.
The loss is ours.
I also took some photos:
I find I often have to zoom in closely in order to see a bigger picture. I’d love to know what you’ve been seeing this week.
In a week where Tennessee dealt a major blow to democracy, and folks in Wisconsin are worrying about a challenge to the election of a judge (the only political bright spot in my week), and (speaking of judges) we have (new? more?) evidence of corruption on the Supreme Court (not that all of us paying attention haven’t known since the 90’s that Clarence Thomas is several kinds of terrible), and there is a new and frightening move to restrict women’s access to abortion and control over our own bodies–all of which is evidence (as if I needed more) that the political norms I lived most of my life with are gone and a minority is no longer even pretending that they’re not going to take power in whatever ways they can–I come to this place feeling as if I have nothing to say.
These kinds of weeks leave me feeling shut down, with my words all stopped up in my head. The things that occupied that space this week (aside from the above) feel trivial in comparison. But here are a few of them:
The new documentary about Brooke Shields. Brooke and I are the same age, and if I ever needed validation that I came of age in an effed-up time to be a pretty female–in which you had to, somehow, be simultaneously both knowingly sexy and virginal–I’ve now got it. The first episode, which focuses on the late 70’s-mid 80’s, reminded me of just how much it sucked to be a young woman in that time. (Not that I could really see it while in the midst of it. I just tried to fit in and get by and be OK, as most adolescents do.)
Here’s 1977 Rita, wearing her first pair of pantyhose, her beloved puka shell necklace, a new dress, and heeled sandals. I can tell you that she is both pleased with these new grown-up things and uneasy about them.
Just two years later, 1979 Rita has a completely different vibe (despite the fact that, like 1977 Rita, she hasn’t started her period or kissed a boy), and there’s something in these two images, and what that documentary helped me see about the culture younger Rita was becoming a woman in, that makes 2023 Rita both furious and sad.
This is not to say that there isn’t plenty that’s still effed up, but if you want to know about the specifics of what is was like for those of us born female in the mid-1960’s, go watch the documentary.
Speaking of those born in the mid-60’s, I encountered another generational piece this week, “The Dazed and Confused Generation,” written by a later Boomer about how people his age need a different generational label. As someone born in December of 1964–making me, by two weeks, technically, a Boomer, I can relate. I feel nothing like a true Boomer, and while I don’t identify completely with the group he does, what some have named Generation Jones, I also don’t fully identify as a Gen-Xer, either. I guess that’s because I’m a Cusper. Me and Brooke. Makes sense that a kid born to parents of the Silent Generation has often felt invisible and unsure of what rules to play by.
This week I bought more books than I should have. Because of Bethany Reid’s review, I bought Linda Pastan’s Almost an Elegy: New and Selected Later Poems. My purchase was prompted because of this poem (continuing to speak of generations and cusps) that Bethany shared:
The Last Uncle
The last uncle is pushing off in his funeral skiff (the usual black limo) having locked the doors behind him on a whole generation.
And look, we are the elders now with our torn scraps of history, alone on the mapless shore of this raw new century.
I’m not the elder generation in my family yet, but many people my age are in theirs. In a conversation this week about whether we are at the beginning or in the middle of what’s happening to our country, I could see how I was gathering my own “torn scraps/of history,” and Pastan is a good person to provide guideposts into the later stages of life. (Any stage of life, really.) I also bought Kate Baer’s What Kind of Woman, because Bethany’s post reminded me of how much I like a certain kind of plain-spoken poetry (Ted Kooser is a favorite in that vein), and I saw it in the bookstore one day after skating. I decided it was time I got over not wanting to buy a book by a popular, best-selling poet. Her writing fits into the plain-spoken category, and I’ve liked some of her poems that I’ve encountered via social media, so why wouldn’t I buy her book? (I’m not going to delve into what my aversion is about or where it comes from. Probably more social programming from my youth that involved responses to Rod McKuen.)
In addition to poetry, I bought a kind of book I never buy: City Farmhouse Style: Designs for a Modern Country Life. I encountered it in the library, and the first house featured looked so much like the Louisiana house Cane and I bought and have begun renovating that I bought a copy and sent it to my mother-in-law (who will be living in the house). What kind of woman buys a house in a part of the country that continues to vote in people she thinks are hellbent on destroying it and that is likely to be impacted by climate change in ways she can hardly bear to think about, and then buys a book that–on the surface, at least–is everything she dislikes about so much of contemporary discourse on home decor? This kind, I guess.
I wanted (and tried and failed) to write about the house, which we began demo on last week while we were on spring break. Here’s a peek at what it currently looks like:
This is the main living area, with doors to the bathroom and main bedroom. Here’s what the bathroom looked like mid-cleanup after demo:
I wanted to write about this house–which means writing about family and history and geography and politics and climate change and mortality and generations–but I got all stopped up with the complex messiness of it all. Maybe I’ll be able to sort it out in time.
Speaking of houses and design and artistic expression, I really liked a home featured on Cup of Jo this week. The owner is a pastry chef, restaurant owner, artist, and mother.
I like the homey-ness of all the images. I like how things don’t match. I like how it resists any kind of label I see in the titles of design books in the library (farmhouse, coastal, cottage, etc.). It’s a colorful, in many ways hand-made home, unlike so many of the ones I typically see in blogs, instagram posts, and real estate listings. (I love real estate listings and follow realtors even though we are not in the market to buy or sell or move.) We’ve painted almost every room in our house white, and my reaction to this house saturated in color has me wondering about that. The homeowner featured in the story passes on a suggestion from a designer to look in one’s closet for clues to our design style, and mine is filled with neutrals in solid colors. I like neutrals and I like our home (a lot), but there is something in the colorful messiness of hue and pattern in this home that really speaks to me and now has me wondering what kind of home 1977 Rita might grow up to choose and create for herself if she’d been 12 in 2007 or 20017 and why 2023 Rita is muted in so many ways and what these things that have caught my attention this week all have to do with what’s happening in the world as I am trying to keep my balance on the cusp of old age.
I would love to hear what’s caught your attention this week, or how you feel about your generational label or what it was like to come of age as your gender in your time or what you’re reading or what you’ve bought (or not) and what kinds of spaces you like to be in. Or mortality. (Good thing I haven’t aspired to write a lifestyle blog, eh?)
This shot makes me think of the last lines in Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones.”
“This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.”
I’m guessing many of you know the poem and that she’s got a memoir coming out. This excerpt from it made the rounds this week. It’s a good read, speaking of women and their voices and socialization and poetry and success and how much things have and haven’t changed.
This week, a friend shared this Facebook post (again) for reasons I don’t need to explain. It feels futile to write here (again and again and again) about school shootings because what can I say that I haven’t already?
This week, I processed the Nashville school shooting while visiting family in Louisiana. Other than one brief conversation with one person, it didn’t come up in any way. I tried to explain to someone who hasn’t worked in schools what it means to spend your days with children in a place with constant, visible reminders of potential threat, with locked doors and ID badges and cameras and giant TVs displaying grainy images of every entrance to the building. I tried to explain the impact, but I think I failed. I was trying to sound reasonable. I am new to this family, to this place. I am trying to build things, not break them. I did not say what I wrote to my friend who shared the Facebook post about every teacher:
Every teacher you know has complex PTSD that is triggered by every school shooting, even the ones who no longer work in schools.
Sure, not every teacher. But more than most people probably know.
There’s so much to say about what I saw and felt and thought this week, I feel like I’m choking. I want to ask, why aren’t those of us who were in schools before May 21, 1998 screaming and shouting about how important it was to learn in places not locked down like fortresses? What happens when there are no longer enough of us who knew that kind of safety? I want to say that not every teacher prays that it doesn’t happen. I want to tell you about all the billboards I saw with Bible verses on them. I want to tell you about how the town we bought a house in is still segregated by railroad tracks, even though the tracks are now gone. I want to tell you about removing layers of the house to find the story of its history, about stripping down to rebuild. I want to tell you about the ads that came up for bulletproof inserts to put into backpacks, and the pretty blonde Nashville mom who posted about her child who goes to Covenant school, and the Nashville state representative who sent out a Christmas card with a photo of his children posing with guns. I want to talk about how the ugliness I saw in rural Louisiana is different from the ugliness I saw when I came home to urban Portland but that there is ugliness in both places. Beauty, too. I want to talk about poverty and culture and brokenness and politeness and religion and politics and money and burnout and persecution and conspiracy because you can’t really talk about gun violence without talking about all of those things but I can’t talk about all of those things in any coherent way. Not today, at least, when I am feeling so tired and broken. I want to say that this is not just about the south or red states; that’s just where I happened to be last week. These things bleed across the all arbitrary lines we draw between us.
Why do I worry about sounding reasonable in the face of a situation that is anything but?
Last week, I wrote about submitting a micro-essay that received an encouraging rejection and noted that I probably wouldn’t share it here because “It really was of a moment, and the moment has passed….” I wrote it during the winter holiday season, in the wake of a mass shooting at a Walmart in Virginia, and I thought it was no longer quite relevant. (I mean, who even thinks about that shooting now? I had to Google it myself to remember what it was about.)
This morning I will skate at a rink in a half-dead mall, its anchors having long ago jumped ship. Lights will shine from a fake tree at center ice, soap flake snow will drift from the rafters, and my eyes will scan the faces and bodies of lone men who watch us too long from the upper floors.
“This place could be a bloodbath,” my coach said a few days ago as the ice became choked with the bodies of students set free for a long holiday weekend. I didn’t tell him about my scanning or my already-planned escape routes, how I’ve wondered if my aging body could carry small children while while running in skates. I didn’t tell him how often I think about the December shooting at another mall down the road just three days before Sandy Hook, the first time I stood in my office in the school library and cried.
In this week when bullets rained and revelers died and Walmart shoppers dropped and another governor declared that violence has no place in our communities–words empty as the windows of our vacant storefronts, as the ice after a fresh cut–I will swoop and soar and spin at the center that still holds, my flashing blades a defiant middle finger to all that I fear.
After hitting Publish, I am going to think about what resistance might look like today, and I hope you will, too. Have a good one.