Tuesday, May 25, 2010

considering vetch

Vetch - a common weed which indistinguishes by stealth, by seeming softness and yummy color, by stubborn persistent twining, stretching its delicate vines up through bushes and around clumps of perennials erasing everything beneath its shapeless green fog. 

In a garden tended for many years, the weeds begin to change - well, not the weeds, but the selection  of, shaped by the gardener's habits.  Yes, I still get the occasional sow-thistle, a few randy dandelions.  Always the stubborn bramble beginnings that have to be chopped out and handled with gloves. 

But overwhelmingly, the border plantings disappear each year beneath an airy green and deadly blanket of viny weeds whose flowers are delicate and deceptively dainty - not just vetch, but the tiny yellow clover, the bright pink wild geranium, the clingy five-leaved whorls of green whose name I haven't bothered to learn. 

And I know it's my fault.  I always let them stay awhile until they crowd too close, strangling the more valuable plantings.  And even then I edit, rather than eradicate.

I have, I regret to admit, introduced some of my weeds into my garden myself.  A pale butter yellow California poppy that pops up everywhere.  Love-in-a-mist - which seeds itself unremittingly, swallowing territory like Mongol horsemen.  Creeping charlie. 

So that cleaning out the yard each year becomes less a battle with nature red in tooth and claw (if it was ever that), and more an exercise in regret and self-recrimination.

After my last post Fritz said, "I know you better when you write."  He is happy I'm posting again.  He says in effect that it clears away the vetch for him.  Not realizing that what he sees is just more vetch, in closer focus.

He also said, "You know someone reading this might think What a leisurely life, but it's also a life of service . . . " and he nods with a bright and sentimental eye meeting mine. 

Ah yes.  Though the last thing I've ever wanted is a leisurely life.  It shames me that my life is full of such ladylike pursuits - the volunteering, the church work, the children, the garden, the baking bread.  Okay, yes, and even the writing, which seems  - when other people look at it - such a dainty and refined pursuit and not the act of courage and redemption, liberty and rebellion it should be.

But the worst of it is that I chose to shape my life this way.  I thought this kind of life would serve the writing best.  I thought the problems of the world needed most the small essential work of family-making.  I thought I could do both and do them well.

Vetch all the way down.

Today Eldest goes in for an interview for a scholarship.  Jobs for teenagers are limited here and so she has put herself to work cleaning houses and in the meantime has set out to apply for every possible scholarship - no prize too small - even $200 is groceries for an appreciable chunk of her year.  I applaud her steady and practical persistence.  We agree this could be good training when, if, when she becomes a neuroscientist and must write grants for research money.

Usually she has me edit her essays but this last batch went out during a week (in my leisurely life?) so full of vetch that I never got to it.  I know I would have suggested she rewrite the essay that has in fact brought her to this final interview today.

Because she wrote
I have one general goal for my future; I want to look back at the end of my life and be able to say that I was able to make a positive difference in individual people’s lives. To achieve this goal however, I have made several smaller, more immediate goals, two in particular, I would like to share. These are the goals of becoming a doctor and becoming a responsible, capable mother.

Eek!  On a scholarship application?  As her editor I'd have had her cross out the whole section on motherhood.  Develop more the idea of improving society through a medical profession. That's good, the part about

The love and care that can be shown by helping someone physically can make them feel like a valuable, worthwhile person and thus make them strong physically and mentally. There are so many cases of neglect and callousness in the world. As a good, caring doctor, I can make a positive, personal difference for my patients.

I like that. But the mommy-section? I would be afraid it would hurt her cause. I would urge her to scotch the whole section and explore something more valuable to the selection committee.  Something real.  Something hard-edged.  Who is going to take her seriously if she says

 I want to raise children that are intelligent, peaceful, law-abiding citizens. Many of the problems in society could be aided, if not fixed by a solid core of responsible, respectable, hardworking and family–oriented adults. Large problems are not often fixed all in one swipe, but by small improvements. As a mother, I can help make these small improvements through the members of my family. To achieve this goal of a responsible mother, I watch my own mother and try to emulate her. I am learning how to cook healthy food and keep a house clean so that these won’t be onerous chores when I have to look after my own house. I am going to college so that I can be an educated, valuable member of society and set an example for my children.

Cross it out, cross it out as beside the point. Weak. Distracting. Silly.

Thus crossing out Myself and what my life has turned itself into. As weak. Silly. Beside the point.

Pure vetch.

While pulling vetch this week and last week - as I will be pulling it next week, too - I keep finding my lips mouthing the words to a poem I think lame in every way - one of the two bits of sentimental verse my snarky, smart-alec, guitar-playing brother has surprisingly memorized.  And which he will declaim in a strangely young and earnest voice at odd moments,   "If I can stop one heart from breaking . . . "

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

Oh please.

Our dear Miss Emily D wrote many a fine thing but this is not one of them. And frankly, if all she had done was lift that limp-headed birdie into his nest, would we care what she said?

If all I manage to do is cool one pain, I will have lived in vain.  If all I do is spend my life tucking birds back in their beds, I will have entirely lived in vain.  If all I do is keep one heart from breaking . . .  unless it be my own self-hating heart.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Losing Edge

Since the first of May, since recovering my health and strength once more, I have been coming down to my desk, pulling up this picture.  Thinking, yes, that's it.

Thinking, I will post about this. 

But then I don't. 

I do other things, beyond the usual things.  
  • Plot out the interweaving pattern of the Bee Book which I finally see how to do.  
  • Pull indistinguishing vetch from the flower beds.  
  • Walk in the sunrise.  
  • Wash windows.  
  • Break in a new bike seat.  
  • Train for the coming coast ride, chugging up my monster hills with unexpected strength.  
  • Sit with my neighborhood old ladies.  
  • Take pictures of light through leaves.  
  • Choose music for the choir, relearning how to lead as they perform once, twice.  
  • Sew a blue dress with pinafore for Eldest's appearance as Alice in Wonderland.  
  • Teach someone how to make bread.  
  • Write up a job description for the director of the new adult literacy center, turn down the position for myself.  
  • Clean out the basement.  
  • Organize the upstairs closet.  
  • Plant tomatoes. 

And somewhere along the way, that clarity, that edged-ness I thought I had come to -- the sure boon of convalescence -- conscious wellness -- knowing what is and feeling myself thrumming to the deep vibe -- all of it but the echo now fallen away, slipped out of rhyme, unravelling into the ordinary scattered day-to-day.  Which is nice enough . . .

But as busy-ness filters back in -- everything muddies over more and more. 

Is it this way for you? . . .  when you've been ill, then well  -- out of it, then suddenly back in.  Don't you feel yourself at first warm in that blessed square of sunshine from a winter window, strength flowing back into  your being like some hyper-actual ichor, some sweet sap?  And more than physical strength, spiritual, mental clarity.  Seeing at last the path up the mountain and knowing there is strength and awareness enough in you to get there.  

And are you ever able to establish this knowing as a lasting foundation?

This time, this time I was going to dwell in that Good Place forever after.  I wasn't going to forget how  enlivening to fill lungs full with air.  How perfect sunrise is.  I wasn't going to forget where I was.  Here, on this earth, growing out of this teeming soil.

"Does anybody still check in on Imaginary Bicycle?" asked Fritz last weekend.

" . . . occasionally.  Yes.  Here and there."

"What do they say?" he comes to look over my shoulder where I am writing something else.

"I don't know.  We miss you.  Where are you?  I hope you're okay.  Variations of."

"Maybe I should get on and leave a comment."

"Really?  And what would you say?" I ask him.

"Where are you?  Are you okay?  We miss you."

"You goon.  You know where I am."

But all week I notice how I am losing peace and clarity in a muddying low-level irritable simmer. 

When I squeeze time to stop by for a quick visit to my in-laws, always so happy for company though we see them every day, they say, "Here sit down and visit awhile -- you're not busy." 

But I am, I am.

When I set out for a fully scheduled day, the food bank calls, "Say, can you come in today?  Hooper's got the flu." 

And by evening . . . having juggled commitments around so I could work stocking shelves, filling boxes, weighing donated produce.  By evening . . . after getting caught in a sudden storm on my way home in the afternoon, thoroughly soaked by great lollopping dollops of rain, so big I can feel them rolling from the top of my crown, down around the curve of my head and deep inside my collar and having to stop dry off at the in-law's with all my clothes dripping and sticking to me and meanwhile scrubbing out their apartment from room to room.  That evening . . . having shopped and biked two panniers of groceries up the hill home . . . I am at last so visibly tired that my daughters send me to bed, "Oh, Mom, you look dead," allowing only a short stop-off for a hot soak.

Ahh . . I have just filled up the tub and opened a paperback archaeology/ mystery when someone calls to remind me, "Shopping tonight for summer camp?  There's that sale on cereal." 

I almost cry.  But I go.  

And come back and sit with the children as they eat dinner late.  Then read Farmer Boy aloud as they do dishes.  And end somehow with YoungSon in my lap (all 9 years of his long-leggedness) listening to "Froggy went a-courtin'" on a CD . . . and then the song after that  . . . and the song after that . . . and . . .

"Aren't you getting bored?" I ask him.  "Just sitting on your old mom's lap listening to kiddie songs?"

"Oh no.  I like this.  And besides we never do this."  He turns and tries to snuggle into the remembered comfort from when my lap was a more spacious haven for his smaller self.

And when I tell Fritz about it the next morning, "Is this a good sign  -- that YoungSon still wants to be around me?  Or is it that I am not there enough for him?  But -- ," I shake my head, feeling the minor rage rising again, "but I'm always there."

"Are you?" says Fritz.  Like he's trying to tell me something. 

"Where am I then?"

"I don't know.  But one of these days you'll realize all of us just want to spend time sitting with you."

I make a sound of disgust, frustration, repeat, "But I'm always here."

And then everyone leaves and I go out to work on the slope.  And our old cat comes winding around and around my ankles, mrowring. I pet him with one hand, weeding with the other.  My old independent cat, going on sixteen, seventeen years, mrowrs more loudly still, rudely almost, rubbing against my legs until I sit, and then climbing up into my lap, butting his head hard against my shoulder, my chest. 

Until I give him my full, undivided attention and he closes his eyes in ecstatic approval.

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