Please understand this is more melodrama than usual -- after all, it's a dark, cold January night at a time of year that I'm often mired in depression and self-doubt. And it just occurred to me that my mother, about whom I've been writing a lot lately, died on just about this day. I'm pretty sure it was Jan. 6. So when I landed on that thought I went upstairs and rooted around, trying to find the evidence of her death date. I didn't find the box containing her obits. But now, who cares? I turn away from psychic possibilities, turn away from that particular melancholy alley.
Instead, I found a bunch of notes from when I was a kid reporter, and a few photos of how I looked then. I was cute: long straight brown hair, parted in the middle, around my face, the smile a bit teasy and a little too knowing. Apparently then I was regarded as a kid with potential -- one of my Kent State profs wrote, "tomorrow is homecoming, and I imagine some day you'll come back as the 'alumna of the year,' after you've had a chance to show your stuff." At the time I had just landed in Laguna Beach, and I was working as a cocktail waitress. "This might be useful for you eventually," he wrote, "especially if you want to write a novel, but I can see you'd want something more." The whole enterprise both struck me with the promise of my youth, my mischievous earnestness, my conviction that I would one day make it big, etc. etc. etc. and the sober understanding I have not quite lived up to the dizzying carbonations of what some grownups thought might materialize from my raw ingredients.
Now I simply have trouble sleeping on dark winter nights. Sometimes I think insomnia is at heart a thick pulse of restless disappointment. The body always waiting for something more to transpire. And occasionally, it delivers these surges of yearning, for something. For something more. So I wander around the house tidying things up, and then I have a craving for the kitchen table, a clean, round kitchen table in the bright white kitchen, where I have barely sat lately. Sitting here with NPR's cheerful intelligence bubbling along from the radio in the corner is a kind of contentment, a grounding in the present.
Tomorrow I meet my winter poetry writing class, and I have to go in there ready to communicate my love of writing poetry -- something about which, persistently, I feel fraudulent. The MFA, the years of writing, the failed manuscripts, the many readings, the wrenching divorce from a literary mating, the long-gone dinner parties with a certain eager panache -- the hopes of that other era, dust in the nose. In this frigid moment, simply self-pity, simply the navel-gazing of a woman who feels really old.
I suppose if you've gotten this far in the blog, dear reader, I owe you some redemptive details. I put 14 cups in a picnic basket for my poetry students: I wanted real cups, and came home determined to provide them after VG's market only had "foam" which I detest, and plastic, which is ugly and simply wrong. I've ordered two carafes of hot chocolate from Brown Sugar Cafe for the first class. First we're going for a walk, and then we're going to come back in and write haikus. And then we're going to drink hot chocolate and eat frosted sugar cookies and molasses cookies and pay attention to the pleasures of our senses: warmth after cold, sweet after bitter, voices after silence. This is what I have to give. And getting ready to start the new, my own life seeks its deeper well.
And so I sit at the clean, round kitchen table in the bright light, clean, solid-paned windows (six over six, as a more cosmopolitan friend described them) between me and the icy darkness, and as my fingers click on the black laptop, I go back to the paragraph I just wrote. Grace of discovery, warmth after cold, sweet after bitter, voices after silence. Having hit on that one set of words, just one sequence that rings true, I feel a small pang of peace. So maybe now I can go to bed, and sleep.