Plans fall apart, things break, people leave.
I blow up over a tangle of Christmas lights, a burnt bagel, a missed call. I gently unfold a precious letter, play an old cd, pull on a ratty sweater that never sees the light of day. These are the pieces of a life. My life.
Stories behind artifacts beneath moments. Like tree roots, memory can take hold. One can never know how deep it will go seeing only what lives above the surface. I used to think memory was all in my head. That letting things go would be as easy as just forgetting. But it isn’t happening like that. I’m trying to sift through the remains of all my past selves and sometimes all it takes to rattle me is to smell that burnt bagel in the toaster. Run my fingertips along the rim of a coffee mug I can’t seem to throw away. Smell the old pages of a well loved, dog-eared book of poetry. Sometimes all it takes is hearing a song and an entire decade comes rolling in with the force of a storm surge.
It’s not always a bad thing. I recently found an old troll doll that my grandmother had given me after having crafted a little dress for it. It took me back to their little house in Ballard and a tin can full of markers on the small kitchen table with the flowery tablecloth. I thought of the old trick peanut can with “snakes” that shot out when it was opened. I remember birthday cards stuffed with a dollar for every year I’d been alive. I thought of how it felt to be swooped up in a hug that I couldn’t escape from. What I wouldn’t give to be loved like that today.
I’m still trying to clear out and clean out and be free of the clutter of time gone by. But it’s not that easy. Like trees, the roots of a thing go down a path that connects them to roots of other things. Who am I to think it’s up to me to snuff out this life force of stuff? Every few years I go through this exercise. One year it was Swedish Death Cleaning, the next it was Marie Kondo. Mostly I wind up giving things away to others via friendship or thrift store, but the rest is just carefully repackaged as some vessel that can keep memory alive.
This year I’m considering the value (to me) of those memories. I happened upon an old wooden box with a broken cheap metal lock. It held a diary which held the very private thoughts of my early teenage years. Back then, locks had a certainty to them. As long as I was the holder of that key no harm would come to me through exposure of those secrets. If I knew anything of fate back then, it was that I held it in my own hand with that key. When I found the box (broken lock and all) these 47 years later, it was like a gut punch. Not that someone broke the lock (although at the time I was devastated) but that I kept it all these years.
What it taught me back then was that there was no safe place for my feelings. I couldn’t talk about them, and with that breach, I would come to understand that to write about them was dangerous too. And here’s the kicker: I got really good at cryptic storytelling. I spent all those years trying to find ways to both share and fiercely protect my feelings. I learned to go “around” the feelings without naming them. I wrote about unrequited love, betrayal and youthful obsession as though it were someone else’s story. It wasn’t until I sat down to write a book about my own life that I realized I don’t know how to be fearless on the page.
A teacher of mine during those tumultuous teenage years met with me twice outside of school. Once at a seafood restaurant a few miles from campus and once at her house for dinner. In my world she was both feared and revered. A character for sure, she was known for her eccentric outfits, wigs, wild creativity and rigorous classes. She taught me to love ee cummings and writing and language. When she took a shine to me she told me in no uncertain terms that I was talented but undisciplined. She made it very clear that one of those things would thrive and it was up to me to decide which one it would be. If only I had listened. She was right, of course.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Anne Lamott
This past year I devoured books. I leaned into memoirs like they were whispering secrets to me. I crave truth and honesty and fearlessness. I’ve been listening to Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and it feels like a week-long therapy session where I’m being called out on all my bullshit. It’s a little like believing you had a friend who would never betray you and would always have your back only to realize what little it would actually take to unravel the whole damn thing. What it all comes down to is this: you have to trust yourself.
And so that’s it. That’s what I’ll do.
Somewhere between beginning to write this post and now, I finished Big Magic. It’s my second time reading it through, and although I remember loving it the first time around, I feel like I missed a great deal. The last chapter is about accidental grace and I’m left wondering if there is really any other kind. I mean, it’s not something you can summon or schedule. Grace isn’t something you earn. Grace is something stumbled upon, deserving or not. So you tell me, accident or magic? I’ll take it either way.
Sometimes life throws me a curveball (or two) and I have no choice but to stand in. If the first pitch comes in hard and twisting like a corkscrew, the second pitch will likely float in like a whiffle ball. Too late on the first, too early on the second, but I’m ready now. I’ve seen the range of the pitcher and my bat is off my shoulder. Bring it on.
Too much metaphor? Yeah, probably.
It may not be the December of my life, but if I had to wager a guess I’d say it’s about 9:45 PM and the clock is ticking. There’s no better time to start writing my truth. Walt Whitman famously mused: “To begin, begin”
And so I begin. Again and perpetually. There may never be a book, but I so intensely love this world, I feel compelled to get it down on paper. I love the silence and the suffering, the exuberance and the joy. I deeply love the stories and the people. Not for what they have given me, but for how they’ve made me feel: loved, held, trusted and when I’ve been really lucky, adored. Accidental grace.
Amo las cosas loca, locamente
(I love things madly, madly …)