Coffee with a friend

I had coffee with a friend this weekend. Not so unusual, except that this was a very old friend whom I haven’t seen in a while. To be honest, it was only the second time we’d ever been alone together.

We’ve known each other for close to two decades. He reads my blog. Mostly I hate it when people talk to me in real life about things they read here, but with him, it was okay.

We talked about things we want. We talked about what it feels like to go crazy. We talked a little bit about marriage, but mostly what we talked about wasn’t important.

Sometimes you have coffee with an old friend and afterwards the old friend feels new again.

Things I like about Miami

Murals on walls
Cats on sidewalks

Bars in hotels
Hotels with pools
Pools with tables in them

Beds next to water
Water taxis
Stone yachts

Secret gardens
Serious musicians

Old-guy guitarists
Drunk guys who share their wine

Guys who don’t dance
Guys who speak to me in Spanish
Girls in leopard print dresses

Are you okay?

Just the other day, a faithful reader of mine asked me this question.

I didn’t answer him right away.  But I wanted to say no.

Are you okay? Well, yes, absolutely. I have all the trappings of happiness: Good health. A great husband, three healthy kids, a nice house. I have wonderful friends in real life. I have hobbies that I love. I get to take vacations to break up the winter. I have fulfilled my childhood dreams of marrying my best friend and owning an RV.

What more could you possibly ask for, you ask.

Well, I’m greedy. I’m not proud of that fact, but I do accept it about myself. I want it all. I only get to live once. I’m lucky, I’ll be the first to admit it. My life is good. I’ll spare you the details of how hard I’ve worked to get it that way. But now I want the bad with the good. I need to feel sadness, anger, and fear just as much as I need to feel joy, compassion, and calmness.

Why, you ask. Here’s the thing: Disequilibrium makes me creative. When I’m not okay, I write. When I’m not okay, I write like this, and this, and this. All of my best writing comes to me when I’m not okay, or when there is some disparity between where I am and where I want to be. Bridging the gulf makes me work harder, it makes me resourceful, and it makes me creative.

So what, you ask. Why seek difficulty? Why not just count your blessings? Why not go shut up and be a good little married mom? Why not be okay? Because I can’t. Because a year ago I came a little too close to losing my mind, and I glimpsed something while I was there on the edge. Because when you get a peek of something more than you expected in life, and when you’re me, you can’t just let that go. Because I want to feed myself to that transcendent gristmill and then write myself back together again. Because I want to live before I die. And if I chase death a little along the way? Even better.

Are you okay? Totally fucking not.

Go plant some bulbs

I planted my bulbs yesterday. Luckily I snatched up one of the last few sunny, tolerably cool days left this fall. In other words, perfect bulb-planting weather. I do it every year, and now that the kids are old enough to help me, it only takes an hour or so to plant a few hundred bulbs. Yeah, the soft Midwestern soil helps, too. You can practically dig a hole with a plastic spoon around here.

When I plant my bulbs, I am usually a little sad about wintertime. Winter is hard to look forward to, especially since it lasts for six months here. Planting bulbs is not my last chance to be outside – no, not with three kids. Kids need fresh air and exercise all year, so I find myself outside, at the park, building snowmen, having snowball fights, all winter long. No it’s no longer a last chance, but it is the last time until spring that I spend time outside because I want to.

Planting bulbs is a study in patience. The cold, leaf-covered ground looks like it would rather be left alone. Yesterday was sunny, but it could have just as easily been overcast, even rainy. I still would have been out there, planting. The bulbs themselves are ugly, and confusing – I can never quite tell which side should point up. Once I plant them, and replace the soil, everything looks the same as before I began. Afterward, no one would ever guess that I’d just planted 300 bulbs in the yard.

Then I’m left with a wait. Around here, the earliest bulbs don’t come up until April. That is five long, cold, dark months. All I have to tide myself over is a secret. A new life is overwintering in the snow-covered soil. Chances are I’ll forget all about those bulbs come December. By the time February rolls around it feels like the world will forever be gray. At least around here, winter kind of kills hope.

Sometime around the end of March, I usually find myself drawn outside almost against my will. By March, 30 degrees feels warm, and I can shed my down coat, hat, and boots and have a look around. Usually the kids notice the first green shoots before I do. But there they are, poking up from the muddy garden. It’s awesome.


Present tense: Kindergarten, day two

Gabe came downstairs dressed and ready for kindergarten this morning, his second day of school. That’s my paycheck and my yearly bonus these days. Especially since I had been prepared for the worst — he just as easily could have woken up grumpy and crying, right?

“Good morning, sweetheart,” I told him. I hugged him and tousled his hair. “What do you want for breakfast?”

“Cereal,” he said, happily.

As I poured Shredded Wheat into a bowl and got him a glass of milk, I asked, “Are you excited about school today?”

“Yeah!” he said, obviously really happy about school.

I’m so excited for him. I can literally feel how ready he is to be at school, learning. When I look at him, I can clearly remember being in kindergarten myself. I was thrilled with my teacher, with being taught.

Kindergarten had a different effect on my daughter, Anna. She loves to learn, but she reacted badly to the demanding full day of school. Each afternoon she turned into a little monster, calling me names, hitting, and generally falling apart at the seams. Most days she ate dinner in her pajamas and went to bed early.

Gabe is calmer about school. He is more settled than his sister and generally just a happier guy. I wish that I understood exactly why. After school yesterday, he gave me a full play-by-play announcement of the day. I loved it. He spent ten minutes trying to figure out the pronunciation of his music teacher’s last name.

This morning, on the way to school, he and Anna had an argument. “Anna called me an idiot,” he called, a few steps ahead.

“Idiot?” I asked. “Anna, did you learn that word at school?” Great. “You guys, idiot is a terrible thing to call each other. Let’s not start the day that way, okay?” I asked. They laughed.

At school, a friend with a son in Gabe’s class stopped to say hi. “Gabe’s translator is here!” she said cheerfully. “Gabe whispers everything, so Evan calls out what he says,” she explained.

“That’s funny. I told Gabe to do the same thing for Evan,” I said, laughing. “Whenever Mrs. C. says something in Spanish.”

“Great idea!” she said.

When I hugged Gabe goodbye before the bell rang, I told him to use his loudest voice today at school, to pretend he’s yelling at Anna when he talks in class. He said he didn’t want to.


Walk with me

Let’s go in the rain-wet air
Why do I always write in poetry?
My step is my meter

I like the dead trees
Their black gray white permanent
Against the temporary greenness.

Walk with me
See the goose on the water below
Cross the bridge with hollow footsteps

Come quickly now
There’s a black dragonfly
A white moth

The field of coneflowers so elusive
Like you
Can you see it, set back from the trail?

Never speak only listen
Hear the birds and the silence
Hear our footsteps

Sun on the muddy forest floor
Spots of light in darkness
Do you see me?