Thursday, July 20, 2006

the week, to date

My oldest son, the teenager, is now in California.

Roofers have been scaling the house all week tearing off what's left of the old roof and putting down a new one.

The ruddy sunburn across my chest that I got from floating down the Renegade River in Soak City all day Sunday is now deepening and blistering. My skin looks like bubble wrap.

North America is still embroiled in a heat wave.

I'm at home cleaning the basement, because the basement is cool and there's just something reassuring about making a basement tidy. A basement is not just a safe haven from inclement weather; it is the repository of glassware, boxes of Christmas decorations, outgrown children's toys, the washer and the dryer.

In the basement I am finding things I'd long forgotten about. This picture of me and my now-teenage son in the back of a journal, for instance. A Christmas in San Francisco.

I look so young. Young and anorexic. (And white, not like ruddy bubble wrap).

My six-year-old looks at it skeptically: "You were a lot skinnier then."

I look over at him.

"You looked good when you were that skinny."

I want to argue, and yet I can't, so I sigh instead. "Yes. But I look good now, too."

"But you looked good skinny."

I give up.

The journal is very dusty. I can't believe it survived; I thought I destroyed everything written from those years around the divorce. All these secrets have been whispering to each other moldily from underneath the considerable weight of plastic-wrapped vinyl records and curling manila files baked from the inside out with dry, factual documentations of interviews and reports -- the kind of jetsam that gets buried in a basement because you don't know where else to put it. I am stunned to read:

There is something hurting inside me that I can not pull out. It is lodged in my chest and warns me there are still memories to be disposed of, as if I once used some kind of rock or wedge to stop the bleeding and it's worked, if temporarily. Now this clot has strengthened, grown viable. I could transplant it on paper where it would surely live forever. But in my chest it is only a pressing disappointment.
When I was an art student I had a professor who pushed us to move past our mediocrities and failed images and force them into something workable. Often, looking at one of my paintings, he'd say, "I can tell you did this because you were frustrated and trying to save it." I'd nod. "I like that," he said. "Most really good works of art were really terrible until the artist surrendered the inhibitions that screwed it up in the first place."

So I wonder now if this is all I'm doing -- creating another canvas. Carving another sculpture. I was never true to my studies as an artist. I was classically trained, but I never paint. I don't draw. Everything I created I've destroyed. I knew I would never, truly, be great. To study art was a luxury that should never have been afforded to someone so poor. What could I have been thinking?

I talked to a college student the other day who has such incredible confidence. "My God won't let me make the wrong choices," she said. All I could think (though I didn't say it) was: My God did.

What I would like to do is take my life and unfurl it like a flag, lay it out straight and show it to someone. "You see, this is who I really am," I could say, and that person could read it all and understand. How I could have lived this life (on so many levels!) and seen all these things and still be this person. I want to know how I turned into what the rest of the world sees as a flower. When really I feel that if there is a bloom, it was spontaenous, as a rotten potato plant that persistently goes on growing even as it's dying, until it flowers and becomes beautiful again, and maybe my own will had nothing to do with it.

My God did let me take some wrong turnings. I think there was something else I was supposed to do because of it. Maybe to learn to fashion other people's feelings into words and learn to leave mine alone. The images, the thoughts, the feelings, everything. Just see and listen to what other people do, and then I might stop waking up every morning in the a.m. with such terror, wondering if this is what I'll always wake up with, the fear and the realization of one's own life being, in the end, only a catalyst for something else, and nothing more. I have this wordless prayer. Please let me be something more than decorative. But maybe that's not it either.

I was so young.

There's no pity, or sorrow, or attachment there, just a sort of fond acknowledgment: I was so young. This is why I can't stand to save whatever it is I've written before. The earnestness embarasses me. Life is a long trip; you can only pack so much.

I think that's what getting older is going to mean, for me -- learning to travel more lightly.