Of roots and wilting and home

Drooping tomato plants, newly transplanted to tin planters

Medical exam room, with bed, computer on a cart, medical equipment

A stand of firs in a park, with a faint path running through it

A hand pointing at something on a map in an atlas

House in front of trees with mist hanging above them

This week Kari asked about the origins of blog names, which got me thinking about the name I gave this one, Rita’s Notebook.

Originally, I intended this space to be more notebook than anything else, a place (as I say on the About page) to “collect bits and bobs of memory, thought, and feeling.”

Also this week, in a bit of serendipity, I came across Beth Kephart’s thoughts on notebooks in her book We Are the Words: The Master Memoir Class: “Seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, knowing is not just a talent or a predilection; it is a discipline. The tool of the trade can be a diary or journal or notebook” (p. 36).

She then draws upon the thoughts and practices of other writers who use this “tool,” including Lydia Davis, Patti Smith, Joan Didion, and Virginia Woolf. Kephart’s selection of these words from Didion, in conjunction with Kari’s question, got me thinking hard about purposes for this space:

We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.

Didion quoted by Kephart, page 39

Primary question: Why have a public notebook? Can it serve the same function as a private one? I suppose one reason I conceived of this sort of notebook was the digital nature of it. So many things I wanted to save were coming to me in a digital format. What is lost and gained, in public vs. private, digital vs. analog?

Some possible answers might be derived from something else that came to me this week (just this morning, actually, via Anne Helen Petersen), The Case for Phone-Free Schools. There is so much in this that I can’t pull out one or two particularly meaningful bits. It is primarily about adolescents and learning, but it is really about social connection and what smart phones do to our brains (and mental health).

More questions.

I lost most of this week to migraine. I had one that lasted 7 days and could not be defeated by my usual meds or Urgent Care’s “migraine cocktail.” It finally succumbed to a drug I was previously told that I could not use any more, for reasons that are apparently lost somewhere within my medical charts. I held out on taking it as long as I could, but pain is a persuader like no other.

I have spent so much time in medical exam rooms, they feel like a kind of home. There was a small boy in the Urgent Care waiting room running circles around an island of chairs. The noise of his sneaker soles against the carpet, and of his breathing–jagged–almost undid me, but a woman (his grandmother?) spoke so kindly to him as she asked him to stop. He slowed, but did not stop. I needed him to stop and hated to see him stop, hated to need him to stop. I missed my grandmother.

What if those of us who are older ran like that boy in our bodies rather than in our minds?

I say I “lost” the week, but that’s not quite right. My week was rearranged more than lost. I moved the tomato plants that grew themselves from last year’s seeds; they sprouted at the edges of the planters, so I transplanted them to the center, and placed cages over them. They did not like being uprooted, wilting dramatically for several days. I spent several mornings sitting in the backyard, off my phone or computer, learning the ways of the small, blue birds that live in our arbor vitae. There is a squirrel that lives in a neighbor’s cedar, home to a scurry of them, that likes to eat the deep-pink flowers off a carnation I planted last year. It does this at the same time each day. I suppose I wouldn’t have seen this if it weren’t for migraine.

(I love that the squirrel eats my flowers.)

What’s the value of knowing about the squirrels and the birds, of having seen them? I am not sure. Perhaps it will be revealed later. Perhaps I will be glad, later, that I recorded this here, where I can easily search for and retrieve it. My paper notebooks do not have this feature.

Didion had me wondering if I should change the blog’s settings to private, cease making it public. What value does any person’s “bits of the mind” have for others?

After the headache cleared, I took a quick trip up north to my parents’ place. There was a moment, not recorded by my phone, when I was driving on a road that follows a shore’s path, and the swath of trees that borders the road gave way to a clear view of the water. At the moment of clearing I could feel something in my body shift and calm. When I was growing up, my parents were not boat people or water people, despite where we lived. I did not grow up on the water, in any way, but it was always there. Big bodies of it, surrounding me, as if I were a peninsula. Where I live now there is a big river–several of them–but a river is a straight line running past, not a surrounding sea.

As we got in the car to leave, my son said to me, “I can smell the beach,” and I took in a deep lungful. Yes, I could smell it, too, and feel it, standing on the pavement next to the car next to the house. Something damp and fecund and salty. I miss it when I am there, in it. I get it in my lungs and realize that I don’t feel as at-home anywhere else, even back in our neighborhood park full of fir trees that stand like sentinels, reminding me so much of the trees in my first neighborhood, the one at the top of the trails that took us to the beach, that I took a picture of the park trees this week, days before my trip home, while in the midst of the migraine that almost canceled the trip.

Migraine is another kind of home.

A notebook is a kind of home, too. This summer, I will be living and working in a place without easy internet access, and I’m wondering if I should go old-school–do all my reading and writing off-line, with paper and ink. I wonder what that might do, how it might feel?

I wonder if it might feel like going home. (You can never go home again.)

Flowering red-pink plants, with blooms heavy on the right clump and light on the left clump

6 thoughts on “Of roots and wilting and home

  1. Kari says:

    Oh, my friend. I can identify with so much of this.
    This transports me to the summer of 2020, when my migraines were at their worst. I am with you on this painful journey. “Migraine is another kind of home…” It is, indeed.

    I hope you’re feeling better now. If you want to talk, I’m always just a click away.

    I can’t tell you what to do, but I would really miss your words here, and I believe others would as well. I, too, have moments when I wonder why I’m still writing in public. What is my mission? Why did I ever start a blog? I don’t believe those questions will ever be answered. But then I think about all of the people I’ve met through blogging. I have a sense that we are all on this invisible ride together, which makes me feel a lot less lonely. I hope you feel this way too. 😘

    • Rita says:

      I am better now; the big drug knocked the headache out. 🙂

      Blogging has for sure brought me together with like-minded people, which haven’t always been easy for me to find IRL. My questions are wonderings more than anything else. I think I’ve been wondering about purposes for writing for all of my adult life. Also, I think it’s OK if a blog mission changes; yours has, for sure. I’ve enjoyed watching it morph as you do. 🙂

  2. Kate says:

    Oh Rita. I’ve only had the misfortune of having a migraine a couple of times and I simply can’t imagine dealing with one for that length of time. (The last one sent me to the ER for the migraine cocktail and I can’t imagine what I would have done if that hadn’t helped.)

    I, too, am a person who grew up with a big expanse of water who now lives near rivers. I love going home, but I can’t imagine home feeling like migraine.

    I agree with Kari, but I also get the desire to go private. Last week I got an email saying it was time to renew my site, and I debated until yesterday. My life is so different from when I started blogging.

    Whatever you decide to do, I hope you find yourself with fewer migraines, a place to write your “bits of the mind” that feels like home, and a chance to enjoy your offline time.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Kate. A week was a bit of a rough stretch. The drugs give me some relief, but it kept coming back. The uncertainty–and having to go into medical offices–was almost as bad as the physical pain. It all gets wearying.

      I’m certainly glad that you decided to renew. (You did, right?) I think both you and Kari are writers, and that’s why you blog. It’s why you can keep blogging over a long haul, with a focus that changes. It’s about the writing, not about whatever topics you are writing about. That’s how it looks to me, anyway.

  3. Ally Bean says:

    Migraines are the worst. I’m sorry. I sometimes wonder about turning my blog into a private one, then realize that for me my evolution as a blogger/writer has been by fielding what other people have to say about what I say, hence the comments.

    While I’m nowhere the person I was when I started writing a blog, my change in approach from a personal daily journal blog to a weekly lifestyle column blog has been organic. And the name of my blog still works.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, and I apologize for the tardy reply. This week’s pain was a back event. 🙁

      Your comment section seems as much a part of your blog as the posts themselves; it’s hard to imagine your blog without that. Your comment here gets at purposes for writing. I think that as we change, they can change. I’m glad (selfishly) that yours is not private.

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