I am staying in my parents house this week. Tonight my daughter was rifling through a drawer full of old doll clothes. Inside a tiny backpack she found this book that I used to pretend read in my parents’ bed. I loved its walnut size in my child hands. It seemed dense enough for adults, but measured for me. It made me feel smart like one of them. It was a material object imbued with my hopes for performing as a literate person at home. In my fingers it’s soft, flippable pages made me worthy of my parents’ attention and intellectual respect. But this child-sized text didn’t seem fit for them. It was both all mine and theirs. I’m not sure I was supposed to have it, but I did and I treasured it, quietly, when their eyes were busy and I was playing grownup. Perhaps that’s why it’s squirreled away in a basement-living doll backpack 34 years later.
Here it is, as promised: me my first year of teaching. These kids are 27 or so now, so I’m guessing no one would recognize them. I don’t even recognize myself! But I remember my pride standing there beside them in our auditorium that smelled like the cafeteria because it was both. It was a year full of make-it-work moments with no texts to start and ex-adult vocational education facilities. At least the table saw from the shop room wasn’t in my room. I should have sung more with them. But we did listen to cal tjader play the vibraphone a lot. And I realized that I needed to learn Spanish if I was going to commune with families and caregivers. This year was the beginning of many things. I hope to carry that curiosity and make it work past into my new academic year.
I’ve got digital ones and paper ones, white board ones and mobile ones. Sometimes I think they are a procrastination tool. Sometimes I think they are a form of therapy. Sometimes I think they are my brain overflow bin. And sometimes I think they are what makes me productive in the most primary sense of the word. Nevertheless, as I clean up my room and out my bag, I am struck by the habit or ritual and how it defines me. I twitch when I can’t find pen and paper at the right time. The idea of forgetting an idea, task, or necessity seems like death. I wish I could remember who taught me how to make one. They were my savior, my mentor, my muse.
1. The places smells will take you. (This would be a flashback from a moment today when I was washing my hands in the Cornell Medical Center on the way to take Sadie for an ultrasound. The Prevon (sp?) bathroom soap transported me to memories of time passed in hospitals under much worse circumstances and reminded me of all the memories we carry around with us, stored like baggage (checked baggage of course)).
2. A morning glimpse of the neighborhood handstand push up guy breaking off bread and pitching it over a community garden fence to feed some birds.
3. I’ve moved through 4 apartments in 10 years and that will soon come to an end. What does that mean?
4. Meditations on a summer half past and a fall to be.
5. An old school picture of me with my first class of fourth graders in Compton, California. My hair is long. My clothes are a bit shabby and out of style in that acceptable frumpy teacher way. I look really happy, i.e., I am beaming from ear to ear. My class was big (32+)! It was 1998. Now it is 2014.
So yesterday I just couldn’t. I thought about posting all day. As I said goodbye to friends and juggled kids and food and trash and conversations and clean up I actually had moments when I was thinking about what I should post. I was so deeply in my personal reality, the virtual space of my blog seemed like another land that I’d have to visit before I went to sleep, but after my goodbye to NYC friends Open House. I reflected on what it meant to write in the midst of personal responsibilities and commitments. I thought the only way to do things like that without seeming completely selfish and anti-social (isolating myself in the middle of a party to write) or inhuman (snorting cocaine or downing no-doze to stay awake after being on my feet making, doing, and cleaning up a party) would be to wake up before everyone and abscond to a place that doesn’t exist because it would have to be open at 5am (Where’s that 24 hour Denny’s on my block when i need it?)! All this is to say that blogging everyday and writing, nonetheless, is a commitment that I am learning from, even when I’m not ACTUALLY doing it.
Or we could say that all these thoughts were doing it. I remember watching the documentary The Woodmans about two artist parents who’d lost their potentially more talented artist daughter before her career had completely taken off (You should see it because it’s beautiful, haunting, and twisted… trailer is embedded above). What’s important to this post, however, is a process oriented reflection by George Woodman who remarked during the film that you, “go to your studio every day, and if inspiration doesn’t arrive, ‘sharpen pencils’ until it does.” Yesterday, I was “sharpening pencils.”
I also recall an academic think piece I read several years ago that mentioned the productive, silent thought processes that are part of the writing process, i.e., you can be walking around thinking about your writing and that counts as writing. All this is to say two things: First, I think these reflections on my process are going to keep coming up on this blog. They are part of the way my thoughts wander in my overcommitted, but mindful (by my estimation) life. Second, I’d like to use this post to claim that while I did not post yesterday, I was thinking about what I should post on and instead of posting about my family’s goodbye Open House, I am posting about my thoughts about blogging DURING my family’s goodbye Open House. We are always writing.