October 3, 2011
I am in the middle of a life that I thought would look different. As a child growing up in a less than happy home, I comforted myself with visions of myself as a grown up. Bear with the fantasies of a hopeful eleven year old, as remembered by a lackluster thirty four year old.
A tall woman with her hair twisted into a messy French roll walks down a small town street that is littered with cobblestones. Strands of hair swirl in her face, and she carelessly sweeps them away with the back of her hand. She is wearing wool pants and heeled boots. She has on a trench coat or an overcoat or a raincoat. Something to keep her warm while snow falls through waning late afternoon light. Dark framed glasses and high cheekbones cut her face into pieces, but they’re pretty pieces. She holds a travel mug of hot tea in her hand, and she’s carrying a pile of books, mostly short stories and poetry collections. The books are full of notes that she’s written, passages that she’s underlined. She’s in a hurry, but she’s not really running late, and she is pleasantly irritated as she balances tea and books.
As an eleven year old, this is how I pictured myself when I tried to fall asleep in a restless house. I know the image is only about what the woman looks like, what the weather is like. But when I picture it, I can feel what the woman feels. She is gathered and peaceful. She is content with what she’s doing. She doesn’t wish she lived in that town instead of this one, and she isn’t frustrated that her job is this one and not that one. She isn’t full of longing, or at least her longing is bearable. Not a wistful and sad longing, but an expectant one. She has problems and frustrations, but she’s built for herself a life in which she feels capable of handling the disappointments that come now and then. She’s not afraid of herself. She believes that she can dream and dream and dream and that some of the dreams will come true. She doesn’t lie in bed at night and think about all the ways she’s let herself down, all the ways she’s screwed up everything. She doesn’t spend 90% of her life thinking about what she could have done better. She isn’t ruined by her past; she’s determined to reward herself for surviving a difficult childhood by living a fulfilling adulthood. She’s different, totally different than me.
If the woman in my dreams and I met on the street, she would recognize something in me. She’d sit me down on a bench and hand me her warm tea. She’d know I need something, so she might shift her books between her arms and slide out a particular collection of short stories. She would take off one of her gloves and page through the book until she came to Sonny’s Blues, by James Baldwin. She’d settle the book in my lap and point to a paragraph she highlighted.
“It’s terrible sometimes, inside,” he said, “that’s what’s the trouble. You walk these streets, black and funky and cold, and there’s not really a living ass to talk to, and there’s nothing shaking, and there’s no way of getting it out- that storm inside. You can’t talk it and you can’t make love with it, and when you finally try to get with it and play it, you realize nobody’s listening. So you’ve got to listen. You got to find a way to listen.”
I would be able to tell that she was thinking about saying more, but she would just smile and say, “You got to find a way to listen.”
This is the woman I was supposed to be. A different woman. And I have grown so far from that woman that I don’t even recognize her anymore. I don’t know who she is. My plan is to write to find her. Writing is going to be my way to listen. Because, and James Baldwin makes it sound beautiful but I’m going to make it sound pitiful: there is a storm inside. And I am so weary from carrying around tornadoes and hurricanes and thunderstorms. I can’t do it any longer. I am too tired and angry and lonely and despondent too often. I need to work through the storms and listen along the way. This blog is going to be an attempt to slow down with the hope that writing will help me exorcise the storms. As a young girl, writing seemed to work. It’s the only thing that ever seemed to work, so we’ll see what happens this time around. Somewhere in me…there is still the woman I dreamt about. She visited me as a child when I needed her, so she must still be inside me somewhere. I have to find her. The way she feels inside…it’s the way that light in the high winter afternoons quietly slips into the cracks between the cobblestones. It’s the way the snow rolls over little hills in the air, changing direction quietly and over and over before it settles into the cobblestones’ cracks. It’s the way the woman’s heels click across the stones. She isn’t walking too quickly because she’s not in a hurry. She has somewhere to be and she knows she’ll get there. Her coat and gloves keep her warm, and she has an armful of books.
A word about the title: I’ve spent the last couple weeks listening to Sufjan Steven’s song, “That Dress Looks Nice on You.” I have listened to this song over and over and over. And over and over. And over. The idea, “I can see a lot of life in you,” breaks my heart. Minute 1:00 is the best part. When the music falls over itself…that’s similar to what my soul feels like. Simultaneously running away from itself in fear and running back to itself in hope. The song has become a little love song that I play for myself. I feel so devoid of light. But I know there has to be some. And maybe, a secret prayer, is that the light is too bright to bear right now. It’s entirely possible that my light is absolutely brilliant. I have a lot of work to do to get to a place where I shine, so this is the beginning of that work.