Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Juice


week of February 22 to 28

“Definitely do not go back and fill in the weeks you didn’t post,” says my sister.

But I kept notes for all those days.


“Definitely,” says she.

So for her sake I jumped forward to the present time and left a month of notes and jottings uncomposed. After all, this is my sister whose judgment in all things interpersonal and sartorial it is utter foolishness to ignore. And so, March disappeared with a sudden leap into April . . . and I am posting in the present (which today is June)

. . . except that . . . I am foolish. And with my sister presently occupied in pre/postpartum . . . halfway across the country . . while I am here . . . far from her steadying influence . . . where I can feel the lure of that lost pocket of time. That tug. My own hidden March. Which none shall read but the seeker.

After all, how can anyone lose a whole month?

Oh, so easily: last Saturday, speaking as if the hidden past were the present, at the end of February, I taught a class at our stake Relief Society Literacy Fair. In an incautious moment six months before, I’d burbled to a planning-board-friend about how seeing the structure of language really enriched an understanding of the scriptures. Before I knew it, I had two 50-minute time slots to teach just that. You may well imagine the enthusiastic response from inquirers to a class entitled “Grammar and the Gospel” (Just for starters: “Well, I hope you won’t take this personal – but I’m not going to that class!” Or her friend, trying to make nice and provide cover, "How interesting! You'll be talking about - not using slang?")

Which response stirred me up to study more. Because I also labor under the delusion that a flood of information is all that’s needed to whoosh apathy into enthusiasm. I was saved from my monomaniacal reading, skimming, noting, diagramming, cross-referencing when the organizers of the Lit Fair called me – still in plenty of time so I had no excuse to demur – and asked would I also do a little thing about the psalms – you know, what psalms are and how to write one – and this would be for everyone in a big group in the chapel – right before lunch – oh, and could you keep it to 15 minutes?

The psalms in 15 minutes. Because they're so short, they must be easy.

Still I dived into the psalms – figuring out the pattern that organized them (5 separately themed sections), their different types and functions, the themes that connected them to one another – and found gorgeous, gorgeous lines of poetry that made me wish I had 50 minutes instead of 10.

Meanwhile, I lost my voice – I mean, physically. So for the last half of the week I pumped echinacea tea and Gypsy Cold Care herbal remedy and homemade chicken soup and every superhealthy leafy green and sinus-clearing spice in my repertoire. And prayed.

Meanwhile I made a snazzy one-page handout, wrote up a short tour of the psalms, and put my notes in order for the class on Great Grammar! Language-structure in the Scriptures and made up jokes about grammar and glamour (honestly, these used to be the same word!)

And the morning of – I woke before my alarm, jumped out of bed and gathered myself together, groomed and coiffed, papers organized and wearing my favorite black boots, headed for the door. Fritz had made a thermos of hot tea for me – Throat Coat – and filled another huge thermos with hot water so I could steep more. I asked him, “Are you always so nice to me?”

“Always,” he said.

“Am I just noticing more these days?”

“I am always nice to you,” he says.

Which may well be. Because this writing in public has forced me to record more than just the whining and ranting that fills my journals. Which is why I cannot bear to lose the small good moments that mattered enough to write down at the end of the day.

I arrived early, filled with a spreading serenity. The first class was superb – good energy – the juice of teaching in front of a large class. The sweetness of the pleasure of doing well – of doing again what I used to do best. By the final presentation on the psalms – 13 minutes – cut short as soon as I saw eyes roaming for the clock – I was in a manic state – serenity stirred up into peaks of glee and overtalking.

Afterwards someone said I wish you would lead a study group – and not having learned the consequences of incautious enthusiasm I mentioned, “dream come true” – and someone else heard and before long I was entoiled in an even larger snare – preparing for a series of classes to be taught through April and May on the Spring Feasts of the Old Testament. And soon the month of March was all consumed in this fascinating project – fascinating to me, but possibly beyond my ability to communicate – all my extra unscheduled minutes soon mopped up with noting, reading, turning pages, searching online, outlining, sorting, organizing, reading more – all those joys of research and study that honestly a part of me is DYING for.

But still, this daily life has swirled on around me, the smallnesses that last a moment but build up the real character of my life, and I cannot bear to lose the days and short moments that mattered enough to write down – even if written only glancingly along the edges of my daily calendar.

Like this:
Reading 2nd chapter of Revelations for evening scriptures. In the silence afterwards, YoungSon says, “We should always read scriptures.”

Or this:
Chaperoning youth at Super Saturday. After games/ lunch our group cleans toys in nursery. We pass Middlest’s group washing down walls, dusting picture frames. She sidles up to me, whispers, “That’s him. In the black tee.” He who chats hours on Messenger. He who is moving away this week. So ordinary-looking. Later at the dance, after the dance, she introduces this boy from the coast to her dad & me. They are both fighting back tears. This is the last they will see each other. Then he smiles and speaks in a warm voice and I see what she has found so charming. But still it is a lurch to look back over my shoulder and see my impervious (and only 14 year old) daughter in his arms. A young couple embracing. All the next day, she (the untouched, the poised, the woman-in-control) goes about on the verge of tears. Her older sister (the susceptible) shakes her head with me, but we do not laugh. M’s sadness seems too real and serious, more adult than Eldest’s many romantic ups-and-downs – oh, when the mighty are fallen!
Or:
Sitting beside YoungSon who is learning sight-reading. Piano. Either this program is really great or this boy has a dollop more ability than I’ve heretofore encountered in my offspring. A little of both maybe. Instant of guilt (what if I had done this with the girls?) but were they ever so eager to please? Piano for them more a chore negotiated between them and me. Ignoring YoungSon’s first year was maybe the best of all methods. Now we have a deal – he practices 5 days, I stay and sit in on the whole lesson. And we do extra sight-reading each day as I sit next to him.
Or like this:
Work w/ Eldest on Viola monologue. She comes alive suddenly when she purposely takes on name of Cesario – amazing! Suddenly every action and intonation fall just right. Gives me shivers. A privilege to let me take part of her creative process. I've listened to her lines over & over. First, basic understanding of the words. Grammar. Elizabethan vocab. Then “choreography.” Hardest for her: working to find body language to show Viola’s sense of weakness as a woman – hard because all her own bespeaks strength & a deep comfort w/ herself. (Last week in a church lesson, teacher stood girls in front of bathroom mirror, asked, “What do you think of the young woman you see?” Eldest told me later her 1st thought: “I like that girl. I trust her. She keeps trying and she figures things out.”) So we talk about being unsure, being scared (I watch her hands. She says, “You’re watching my hands!”) She finds a movement (I don’t say aloud, but it’s one I do, cupping hand to chest.) (She says, “It feels strange. I never do that.) We talk abt acting as a kind of telepathy – communicating beyond words – building up a trance state in audience like what we felt sitting in the circle at Canadian 1st People’s chant – like Hindu temple dance – like the camel song in that Gobi desert movie. Shakespeare done right could be a dance that sings so that the audience hardly needs to understand the words – though the words are so beautiful. “Acting,” she says, “you think the meaning while your mouth says the music.”

The juice of creation.

I used to lie on my back, imagining . . .

"Head in Mother's Hands" by Kathe Kollwitz



"Childhood"by Maura Stanton

I used to lie on my back, imagining


A reverse house on the ceiling of my house
Where I could walk around in empty rooms
All by myself. There was no furniture
Up there, only a glass globe in the floor,
And knee-high barriers at every door.
The low silled windows opened on blue air.
Nothing hung in the closet; even the kitchen
Seemed immaculate, a place for thought.
I liked to walk across the swirling plaster
Into the parts of the house I couldn’t see.
The hum from the other house, now my ceiling,
Reached me only faintly. I’d look up
To find my brothers watching old cartoons,
Or my mother vacuuming the ugly carpet.
I’d stare at unmade beds, the clutter,
Shoes, half-dressed dolls, the telephone,
Then return dizzily to my perfect floorplan
Where I never spoke or listened to anyone.

I must have turned down the wrong hall,
Or opened a door that locked shut behind me,
For I live on the ceiling now, not the floor.
This is my house, room after empty room.
How do I ever get back to the real house
Where my sisters spill milk, my father calls,
And I am at the table, eating cereal?
I fill my white rooms with furniture,
Hang curtains over the piercing blue outside.
I lie on my back. I strive to look down.
This ceiling is higher than it used to be,
The floor so far away I can’t determine
Which room I’m in, which year, which life.
Related Posts