It has been cold outside for many days. It feels as if it has been gray and gloomy too. But yesterday (as today) was beautiful. At 12:30 I saw that the clouds were clearing. I noticed the temperature increasing. An hour later I was riding my bike around the lakes, listening to my I-Pod and feeling grateful that I can notice the day transitioning, that I am not stuck behind a desk unaware of weather changes. Passing by the lakes, I saw that the pelicans are here. Every year in Baton Rouge, the lakes are visited by a burst of white pelicans – floating on the water full of stunning quietude. The gratitude I felt yesterday while I rode my bike was so powerful that it made me ache in some way.
I have been working to find balance between joy and melancholy, because instead of balance, I have felt both sensations so intensely that it overwhelms and exhausts me and somehow feels sharply painful.
On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I went to my friend a.’s house. She had gathered about twelve people together for drinks, a little food and sharing. We were to bring an object, a trinket, a song, a poem, anything that summarized what 2007 has been for us. When we gathered to share, we each spoke about the prior year and also about what we hope the coming year will be.
I scavenged around my office about ten minutes before we were supposed to head to a.’s house, and I picked out these items: a postcard of a Salvador Dali painting – a woman looking out of the window at water, a postcard with a black and white photograph of Flannery O’Conner standing on her porch and a peacock in the foreground, and the Collected Poems of Langston Hughes – marked in two spots.
I passed the two postcards around, and as I passed them I read two poems.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
The second poem was this.
I loved my friend.
He went away from me.
There’s nothing more to say.
The poem ends
Soft as it began-
I loved my friend.
Why these four artifacts? How do they summarize the past year, and how do they relate to one another? On New Year’s Eve, my thoughts were disjointed. Even still, I’m not sure that I can adequately define their relationship to each other, to me and to 2007.
I will attempt. Attempting is a thing I’ve been doing lately.
First, for me – the last year began in August of 2006, and it ended in December of 2008. That period feels distinctly like one full cycle that can be summarized with these themes: experiencing, processing and accepting loss; re-evaluating goals and attempting with all energy to make dreams reality – to live in a way that is authentic to the core of who I am; and renewing friendships – renewing the fluttering social side of me which had been slumbering.
When my mom died, I felt numb for a long time. Even in that numbness, the writer part of me was rising. The week after I returned from her funeral I wrote a note to myself in which I proclaimed that it was time to be a writer – time for me to work at it. I agonized over whether this was a realistic goal. I wondered if I would have nothing to write about. I feared I would fall into the depths of poverty.
In my 8th grade English class, there was a poster on the wall that contained the “Hold Fast to Dreams” poem. I remember sitting and daydreaming as I stared at that poster. Reading and rereading those words, I could sense the depth of loss that comes from relinquising dreams. At Christmas last year, the “Hold Fast to Dreams” poem revisited my memory. I told my husband c., “I really want a collection of Langston Hughes poems.” He gave the collected works to me for Christmas, and I immediately searched out that poem. Two months later, in February, I decided to it was time to try. To attempt to be a writer. To attempt.
The Salvador Dali postcard is one my sister gave to me on my sixteenth birthday. On the back, she wrote simply, “Dream Big.” On New Year’s Eve, I told the people with whom I was gathered, “When I see this card, it reminds me that every sixteen year old should be told simply, ‘Dream Big.’ What more vital message can you offer a kid?” It reminds me still to dream.
The Flannery O’Connor postcard is one I’ve had for 12 or 13 years. I bought it myself, so nothing is written on it. I think it embodies my love of the south – its strange mix of flamboyance and crippling paralysis. The image also reminds me that forever I’ve wanted to be a writer. And in some way it is homage to a woman whose work I love.
I’ve kept these two cards in a visible space wherever my workspace has been over the years – in my bedroom, in my cubicles, in my landscape architecture studio, now in my office at home. They summarize the year because they remind me that I am finally attempting. In the past they have seemed like a nice inspiring but unattainable idea.
And what of the second Langston Hughes poem? It captures the sadness of the year. On New Year’s Eve day, my friend e. was at my house. Standing in my dining room, fresh from the memorial we’d held only days earlier for marcie, she began crying softly. She said, “I was just thinking about that Langston Hughes poem, ‘I loved my friend.’” A third grade teacher, she said, “I see it in children’s anthologies all the time, and I never know what to say about it.” And she cried more. I sought out my Langston Hughes book to find the poem she spoke of. I’d never read it before.
It was a helpless moment. A moment of missing marcie. A moment of knowing that acceptance is a must. “There’s nothing more to say,” the poem reads.
marcie, my other bookend of loss – she prompted something different than my mother. If my mother prompted me to revisit my oldest and inner-most dreams, to attempt them, marcie prompted me to revisit my inner-self as a friend. Losing her has made me remember a time when I was surrounded by female friendships, surrounded by the give and take of gossip, beauty, intense longing among women to be more like one another, and also intense unspoken understanding of one another. I don’t know if it is possible to capture the depth of my female friendships. But marcie remembered hers, loved them all and longed for her friends to always get along, to always gather, to always stay honest and not guarded with one another as we aged and grew more independent and less reliant on the security of togetherness.
Sometimes you meet a woman, and you note, “that is a guy’s girl.” I have always been “a girl’s girl.” When I think back to the time I first began dating my husband, I remember being surrounded by a gaggle of girls at all times.
As my husband and I began dating, I discovered that he loved his male friends as deeply (though differently in the physical and emotional and spiritual act of connecting) as I loved my female friends. It is a quality in him I admired quite a lot. When we continued to date, I somehow became immersed in his group of male friends. I remember that I was often the only girl in the group of his guy friends. Some of this was of circumstances – I’d had fallings out with some girlfriends, others had moved away. But as I think back, I also know that I allowed it to occur on some level. I wanted to be with my now husband at every turn. Luckily, my roommate at the time was not as outgoing as I was, and she stuck to us – a second female presence in a brood of testosterone.
In 2007, I made two new girlfriends. One is ten years younger than I am. She is Indian like I am. And American like I am. Her appearance is striking, like I like to think mine occasionally is. Like me, at her age, she is caught between her parents’ Indian expectations of professional and financial security (and the awareness that they traveled across a continent and an ocean to provide, provide, provide something better) and her own desire to live a life that expresses the art inside of her.
The night I met r.– I was leaving a restaurant, and as I was walking to my car I heard a distinct laugh filling the air. It was laughter that belongs to my other new friend a. I said to my husband, “I hear a.’s laughter – let me stop to say hello.” And I walked to the patio where I found her at a table with a group of people. She made introductions, and r. looked up at me. With all of the enthusiasm and pleasure in the world she asked, “Are you Indian???” I knew immediately from the tone of her voice when she asked, from the wideness of her eyes, that I liked that girl – a New York transplant working for Teach for America, and so sheltered in her Baton Rouge experience that in a year and a half she had yet to meet another Indo-American. And me – so judgmental and certain that I was different from every other Indian kid I knew in my nearly life-long Baton Rouge experience that I had never had an Indo-American friend – not once beyond early childhood.
My other new friend is a. What is that saying, everything old is new again? I wonder if that could apply here? a. and marcie were friends. Me and a. went to middle school together. a. remembers that I was her friend in 6th grade science class, and to her dismay, I do not remember. We also went to high school together where we were both in drama. Often we talk about how we ran with different crowds – hers was ultra-alternative. My own crowd was so internally and self-consciously quirky that we wanted desperately only to be status quo.
When a. moved back to this red stick, she and I encountered each other through some volunteer work. We ended up planning an event together. I recall thinking how much I liked her. Our friendship was slow to build – layering on top of itself through our community endeavors. Then last Christmas – the same time I received the Langston Hughes book that I was so happy to have on hand this year when e. recalled the “I Loved my Friend" poem, c. and I had a post-Christmas gathering at our home. marcie called to ask, “Can I bring a.?” I said, “Definitely!” So a. was at my party, and I remember that after, she thanked me for the good time.
We kept doing little things together, adding more layers to our slow blossoming friendship. a. is a remarkable, powerful, energetic woman – she exudes, I tell her. She simply exudes. Energy, sensuality, vibrancy, compassion, intelligence. When a. walks into a room, she exudes.
When I got news of marcie this past August, it was I who called a. We had a long phone conversation that night. And we’ve had so many long phone conversations since – along with late nights staying up talking in her living room 'til 5 a.m.
With these two new friends, with a few girlfriends who I already had and who live in town, because of marcie’s passing, I’ve remembered how it feeds me to be in the company of women. Before marcie died, I don’t know that I remembered what it felt like to fall in love with a girlfriend – to be enamored and to want to be inseparable, to want to talk all the time. Yet, as a girl-child, as a middle schooler, as a high school student, in college – I was never without those friendships.
I’ve desired more than anything recently, the space to re-cultivate that girlish part of me. I’ve wanted dance parties and girls’ nights reading magazines and eating ice cream. I’ve wanted intense conversation over things that wouldn’t interest any man I know. I’ve wanted to swap horoscopes and advice and humor – to be charged up. There is a kind of electricity between women friends, and I wonder, how do we grow out of making these kinds of fast and furious friendships as we age?
This is where the joy and the sadness merge in a deep and upsetting way. I know why I am attempting my own dream to be a writer – losing my mother prompted me to ask – “What do you want to do with yourself? Who do you want to be, and how will you live up to that? Because you won’t be here forever.” And losing marcie propelled me to remember the quality of friendship we once had – the way she loved her girls. I’ve had to ask myself, “Does being an adult mean you give that up? Does being a married woman mean you stay guarded and never share yourself with your female friends again? Does it mean there are no closets to raid but your own for the rest of your life?” In experiencing myself as a writer and as a girlfriend in a gaggle of girls, I get overwhelmed with the joy and sadness of how this has come about, the loss that has supplied joy. I act in extremes to try and accommodate the new things I’m attempting and the old things I’m rediscovering.
My head has occupied a strange space in the last year. I’ve been excavating my guts, so to speak – taking a look at what is inside of me – what parts I want to keep, what parts I want to toss out. Truthfully, I am still on this archaeological dig of sorts. Equally, I feel like I’ve been swimming in the depths of the ocean, seeking out treasure, finding some gold and some trash – torn fishing nets and sails, being amazed at all I see – things I knew existed in the ocean and other creatures I never imagined.
The other morning as I woke, a voice entered my head. The voice said, clear as day, “This is enough,” a command to move forward. And when I heard that voice, I immediately felt the sensation of coming up from water – a blast of air hit my face, I blinked water out of my eyes, my hair clung heavy to my scalp.
What prompted this digging/swimming? (For any astrology-savvy friends – my sun sign Capricorn is ruled by the element earth, but I think my moon sign is Aquarius- ruled by water.) It’s difficult to say exactly what – because along with, or perhaps as part of, the digging/swimming, I’ve been – as I announced to my friend e. recently – having a second childhood. She asked, “Did you ever feel like you grew up?” Never having considered this question before, I was still able to answer promptly, “Not until I realized I’ve been acting like a child again. And then I knew I’d grown up somehow at some point.”
The weather inside of myself has been changing. 2008 will be about embracing adulthood, but also embracing what is at my core, rather than telling myself that what is authentic to my core is childish or unrealistic. 2008 will be about finding the balance between joy and melancholy. It will be letting creative productivity and my social-self (myself as a friend) be the pivot on which I balance my life.