June 4, 2019

A Message for those who have been Quiet Long Enough.


After weeks of spring overcast, this morning the sunlight tipples across the yard, stumbling a bit when it comes across the pine trees in the back, like a toddler just attempting verticality.

It’s a young sun and the whole season is cheering her on. I am too, as I sit on my chilly screened-in porch, writing at a rickety card table that trembles as my pen moves.

My oldest has a senior class picnic today—a school-mandated senior skip day—and off he went in shorts and sandals, insisting the weather folk promised it will warm up into the 70s today. The birds and I are uncertain. At some point, you stop arguing with teenagers.

A garbage truck makes its weekly rounds, lumbering and rumbling up and back down the cul-de-sac, hissing and groaning at each stop as it takes on more. I feel a sympathetic twinge in my body and remember today is my gym day.

When my kids were small, one day we were playing a silly game of describing what car we would be if we were a car. The younger was obviously a sporty red coupe. The older a quirky convertible—maybe even a vintage model from another era. It was autumn, and sunny and fine as we drove through rural Wisconsin. Farmers were out getting the crops in while the weather stayed good. And from the backseat piped a voice, “Mom, you’re a bean harvester!”

Yes, I thought, even as I sputtered with laughter. Yes, that is exactly right.

Parenting, family life, and marriage have stretched me out and blown me up in ways glorious and painful over the years. Yesterday, I told my friend Laura I’m ready for my life to shrink. I’m ready not to have all these warm bodies to keep track of. I’m ready to narrow my attention once again to the scrolling ribbon of ink at the pen’s tip, as it glides across this page.

I’m ready for a new chapter.

Writing that sentence scares me. Can I say these things? Is a woman—a mother—allowed to voice these feelings?

I don’t know…even articulating them to myself feels new and scary, but also promising. I am slowly, tentatively discovering writing again as something fine and demanding, silk and jacquard tapestry worthy of attention for its own sake. This spring I began to feel attendant small hooks of curiosity—the size and shape of seam rippers—tug me back to the blank page. The pleasurable feel of the pen in the hand. Something again feels new, and I am willing to dare this newness, to allow myself to grow.

Perhaps to discover how I have already grown, in the intervening seasons of silence.

Coming back to writing is a slow and halting progress, like learning to walk on tottery legs, unsure of my surroundings or what is possible. When I write a sentence I like, I copy it out on an index card, just as I did in fourth grade for Mrs. Thatcher—world encyclopedias open on the library table. As the stack of cards grows, I begin to spread them out across the card table, shifting them around and back and forth as I discover connections, piecing together patterns in the white cards like my aunts and grandmother piecing their quilts.

It was only when I realized writing could be pieced and stitched from bits and fragments that I dared to try to come back to it at all. The idea of attempting a linear narrative exhausts me before I even pick up a pen. There is something about the truths of my lived experience that resists linear development. No easy character arc; no Hero’s Journey. But these little, separate sentences, how they do add up. All of these cards will find their place in the pattern. I have faith.

It’s a slow work. Having reached my fourth good sentence, I lapse again into silence, holding the warm coffee mug with gratitude. I don’t dare to write more than three or, at most, four cards in a day, even on the best morning. Regaining a robust writing practice takes time and patience. It all feels tentative and new.

A card: I am coming back to myself.

Another card: And I am not as I was.

Barefoot, slightly chilled on the porch, I feel the small hooks of curiosity urging and encouraging me to keep going.

The pen as seam ripper, because that is what it feels like. And I wonder at the symbol. An unmaking? An undoing? A “letting out,” in seamstress terminology. Something has been stitched together and now it is time to carefully and precisely unstitch it. Impossible not to think of Penelope at her loom, night after night. Impossible not to think of the Fates, spinning and measuring and cutting, weaving and unweaving.

In my mind’s eye, the ripper does its careful work across the fabric of my life and the pieces part like curtains. Some deep wilderness floods forth—a verdant darkness that has been held back too long, nourishing and rich and untamed. I watch it unfurl and feel myself grow lush and warm in the glow. Attendant questions seed themselves and interweave across the pages: “Can I write this?” “Do I dare to say this?” “Am I ready to put this down on paper?”

Even writing the questions here, I know that I will find the courage from somewhere to write what and as I need to. I have been quiet long enough.

It took me a few years of deeply private silence to become the person I need to be to write from this new place. It takes a steady hand to rip a seam without tearing or snagging the fabric. Coming back to writing now, I know the time is right—this is my edge. I also know I needed those silent years to let myself grow through some hot changes.

Writing is a no bullsh*t game. The truth will out. In those years of seismic upheaval and shift, I simply could not craft a sentence worth a damn to convey any of what was happening with me. There is a time when you simply have to experience the crucible, to be forged new. Parenthood was part of that crucible (and will always be). Marriage, yes, and all the trial and error involved in that experiment, as well as a new business and old friendships that saw me through the thick of it, year in and year out.

Now I tiptoe up to the edge and dare to begin: I am sitting on the screened-in porch. It is late May and the garbage truck makes its rounds. My children prepare to graduate from 12th and 8th grade. Someone has turned on a lawnmower. The sentences come one by one, each with its nugget of truth.

Start by daring the small truths, I tell myself. Build from there.


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