Wednesday, May 14, 2008

head in the clouds, feet on the ground.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Today, a list. Inspired by the blog of Alex V. Cook.

1. 2008 is supposed to be my year of transformation.
2. Our home is being transformed. Acoustic ceiling tiles are being buried under sheetrock and drywall. Wood paneling is being mudded to give it a drywall finish. Floors are being refinished. Plants are going into the ground outside. Porch floors are being sanded and painted. Sunny yellow walls and grass green walls are being painted pale gray-blues, crisp, clean golden wheats and soft whites.
3. We will be living in a mighty grown up house soon. But not for long.
4. I went saltwater fishing in Cocodrie, Louisiana for mother’s day weekend. This is what my mother-in-law wanted. For me and c. to come down to her fishing camp and fish and spend the night.
5. I’d never really fished. I thought I would be miserable.
6. But I loved the drive down to Cocodrie.
7. I loved being surrounded by shrimp boats preparing for the opening of shrimp season.
8. I loved the one-hour boat ride that brought us closer and closer to the Gulf of Mexico.
9. I loved that I wanted nothing more than to jump into the water and swim. Though I couldn’t because it would have scared the fish away.
10. My life is transforming. I’ll be a student again.
11. I’ll also be a teacher soon, to college freshman and sophomores from small Texas towns. I’ll probably love this.
12. I like young minds.
13. Most importantly, I’ll be a writer.
14. We are leaving Baton Rouge and heading to Austin, TX. I am blissful and sad all at once.
15. Dismantling closets and cupboards is more involved than one would think.
16. Every single object holds a distinct memory or carries with it an emotion.
17. Even old cassette tapes. I had a hard time parting with my husband’s collection of $3-gas-station-cassette tapes. I didn’t even buy them.
18. But yielding my hesitation, he kept them. He put them in a case in my car and said I could listen to them on the drive to Texas and decide which ones to keep and which to toss.
19. I liked this idea. One of my favorite Aretha Franklin songs is on a gas station cassette tape.
20. I am lucky that my 2004 Jetta came equipped with a cassette player.
21. I had packed two boxes of all of my landscape architecture materials – notes I’d taken, papers I’d written, thick articles packed with dense language. Things I’d read and highlighted and contemplated. I had also packed every single journal I filled while in school. Not to mention a whole box dedicated to thesis materials.
22. The next morning, I wondered: Why do I want to keep all that landscape architecture stuff? Does it make me feel smarter? Does it prove to me that I survived the 3 ½ years of mental torture?
23. I unpacked the boxes and threw as much away as I could. I kept all of the journals. The travel journals are especially nice.
But I got the articles/notes down to one binder (from about fifteen). It made me want to cry. It made my stomach ache the way a broken heart aches.
24. I had to remind myself: You are no longer that person. You don’t have to carry your entire past with you; you can keep small reminders without bringing along every last overstuffed suitcase.
25. I also threw away almost every design project I’d done – planting designs for residential and commercial sites, a free bike rental strategy for the city of New Orleans that included an economic development component, and on and on.
26. Later, I finally sorted through the two boxes of materials I’d brought home with me when I quit my job last year. I threw away everything except one tiny pile. I couldn’t figure out how I’d let the two boxes consume space in my office for an entire year.
27. I managed to exhale for a very long time. I am not an urban planner or a rural planner or a community planner anymore. I am not a landscape architect.
28. I am a woman who studied these things and worked in this realm over seven years.
29. Seven years spans infancy, toddler-hood and early childhood. It’s okay to mourn this passing. And it’s okay to remember fondly that I did a really good job when I filled this role.
30. My 23-year-old friend asked me if I feel domestic doing all of this packing and paint-color-picking. I think she thinks that being married and owning a house equals being domestic. Maybe it does.
31. I said I feel like I'm preparing for the most important business venture of my life to this point.
32. I had a boyfriend who said I was domestic. It felt really insulting at the time. I was 20 or 21. I wanted to tell him that being clean and also considerate of others and enjoying the act of cooking a good meal now and then was not domestic so much as it was a sign of a civilized, compassionate and creative human being. But I thought of this too late.
33. Occasionally, after having spent a whole day cleaning the house and celebrating it by cooking a good meal (because it's nice to cook in a clean kitchen), I will joke that I am a domestic goddess.
34. But mostly, I don't feel domestic. I feel like my head is in the clouds and my feet are on the ground, toes occasionally skimming the water. Is there a label for that kind of person?
35. I never again have to conduct a round table discussion or a 300-person community meeting with disenfranchised and frustrated citizens. Dairy and sugar cane farmers. School teachers. Senior citizens. Generations-long families of bricklayers.
36. But when I did, I listened hard, and I sincerely cared about everyone. This can ware a person down, or make a person cynical. Both.
37. Because community members are generally misinformed and often too myopic to grasp the big picture, and equally, the financing aspect of community development projects usually ends up pissing on the very people it ought to assist. Or at least it pisses on the majority of them.
38. I left before cynicism set in.
39. I am an optimist by nature and desire.
40. Transforming into some person new or better or who better fits your inner-essence means releasing who you have been.
41. I wrote a poem the day after mother’s day.
42. I wrote it in twenty minutes though I had not known it was sitting inside of me.
43. I only knew that laying eyes on two dresses nearly socked me in the gut on the night of mother’s day. I got sucker punched.
44. I used to want to start a girl band called Sucker Punched. But I’m not musically talented.
45. It would have been a punk band. I would have played base. Is that domestic?
46. I think the label I want is: Nourishing.
47. I didn’t catch a fish in Cocodrie (so maybe I could have swam), but I almost caught one. A speckled trout. I didn’t know how to reel it in properly. I held the pole over the water for too long when I should have swung it in over the boat right away. Apparently trout have tender mouths and can escape the hook easily. Mine fought its way back into the water.
48. He was a tired fish. He was hyperventilating and not swimming when he got away from me. I secretly hope he lived to swim another day. Days. Months. And on.
48. He was THIS BIG. (Envision two arms being held wide apart.)
49. My fish grows with every telling.

Here is my poem. Remember that I am not a poet and please be forgiving.

Late at night. It was
packing clothes from my closet
into a cardboard moving box
that brought out the ache.

Two dresses.
Black chiffon party dress, its price tag
still dangling on a safety-pinned string.

The other, brown and beige silk
worn three times, maybe four.
This dress that made me look skinny and professional
when I felt like neither.

Muddy colors and flattering cuts.

She had died, our mother.
And we shopped.
Loaded our arms with more
clothes than they could carry.
Tried on and on and on.
Dresses, pants, blouses.

All the garments our mother
could have sewn for us.

On this grit-your-teeth-smile-and-be-happy day.
This get-out-of-the-house-necessary-elation
Ding of a cash register may as well be a casino slot machine.
Charging credit cards.
Bags we carried home.
Heavy bags of purchased therapy.

The manufactured memory of
four sisters shopping together
so we could feel happy and full,
instead of empty and robbed.

Yesterday made two mother’s days.
I thought I did not miss her this time.

Pulled these hangers from my closet.
Dresses delicately draped. Drooping.
Remembered shopping with my sisters.
The bliss. Then, the murk of black brown beige.
Like a fist in the stomach. A tender bruise.

Fabric you ball up. Stuff into a garbage bag
and drop at Goodwill
so you can discard that desperate day after her funeral.

SONGS: Won't Be Long, Aretha Franklin and So What, Miles Davis

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