Warning: This is a long post, which is why it’s going up Wednesday. I only finished 3/4 of it by midnight and then called it a night.
There are times in my life, more so in the past year or so, that I begin to feel like a I belong in the Talking Head’s video, “Once in a Lifetime:”
t’s not that I want to be in the video, so much as I completely understand this song, and really, deeply understand the meaning.
I think David Byrne is a genius, especially lyrically, and his genius, I would argue, is most apparent in this song. Here is a guy who wakes up suddenly and wonders, “You may ask yourself: where is that large automobile? You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house. You may tell yourself this is not my beautiful wife?” This man is in the middle of an existential crisis, surely a social commentary of the high living, skyrocketing income, and coke-snorting mores of the 1980s. At the end of the song, after trying to “let the water hold [him] down” and even “the water flowing underground,” the man cannot achieve any sort of renewal (water as a metaphor for baptism), and everything will always be “the same as it ever was, the same as it ever was, the same as it ever was.”
Existential. Sisyphusian. True.
Though I’m not quite near the state of mind Byrne is in this song, I think it does speak to me in a sense of growing older, growing up, and realizing that so much of life can be the same.
I guess the feeling of life remaining the same comes in a weird sense of time passing for me. There are days when I wake up, take Maddie to school, drop Luke off at daycare, go to work, and then repeat everything the next day. And then the next. And then I feel the monotonous “sameness” of life.
And I have a flexible, always changing job. Imagine all those who don’t. Those who sit in the same desk, in the same office, doing the same thing.
Getting out of my routine and enjoying the lazy days of summer causes me pause as well though. I don’t find myself doing the same routine thing so much as I take the kids to the park, or the beach, or on a hike, but all of a sudden I freeze up. I look around. I notice the green lines in a leaf, the century old shaved down smoothness of a beach stone, the cracking plastic of an aging swing.
I think: I’m 35. When did that happen? How did this happen? Where did these kids come from? How did they grow so fast?
It honestly seems like just yesterday that I was the lost 18-year-old student that I now teach. It seems like just yesterday Maddie was two years old….or not even born. In one swift blur, as I stand at the park or on a trail or at the beach, every moment of my 35 years hits me.
“You may say to yourself, well, how did I get here?”
And it’s in these moments that I turn and stare intently, and most likely quite rudely, at the oldest person I can find. I stare at her wrinkles. I absorb her attitude. I wonder, “Is she happy. Was her life fulfilling? What does she wish she’d done differently? What can she teach me? Is she bitter?”
Then I find the youngest person to stare at: a young adult just starting life. I stare at his flawless skin, his confidence, his bravado. I want to tell him, “Do you know how fast this will all go? Do you realize that every decision you make WILL impact your future? Will you always–please, please, please–use birth control diligently until you are ready to have kids. Oh, and don’t be ready to have kids until you’re in your mid-30s. Oh and don’t get married until you’re at least 30. Oh and….”
I promise I’m not crazy nor having some kind of break-down, and I actually believe 35 IS still very young. But sometimes these moments give me pause. And I rather examine my life pauses than ignore them.
Which is all to say this past week, in some cosmic intersection of oddness, brought me back to my youth, my younger years.
Starting with the fact that Luke’s father and I had mediation to reassess our parenting schedule and we decided to block out Luke’s time more with his father to lessen Luke’s developing transitional anxiety. What this means is that Luke’s father gets Luke 8 more hours a week, which isn’t really that big of a deal, but what is a big deal is that I have every other weekend without Luke. I thought at first this would be really difficult, but it wasn’t at all. It was needed. And Maddie was with my parents all weekend.
Which meant I had 48 hours, basically, all to myself.
This is the very first time I’ve ever had this amount of space to myself.
Wait. Scratch that. When it was just me and Maddie I took a few trips without her (once to Chile when she was 2 1/2; once to England when she was 7; and a few weekend trips–and I really mean just a few–throughout the years). But since Luke’s been born I haven’t really been apart for him for more than 24 hours, and even the one time he was gone with his father for three days, I still had Maddie. Sure I get a night off from both my kids here and there, but an entire weekend….
…be still my heart.
My weekend started Friday night with dinner and drinks with my sister and my sister’s sister-in-law. It was a good time and the fact that I didn’t have to worry about getting home at a certain hour was liberating.
Saturday morning I woke up and went to Jon, my brother-in-law’s, birthday party. His one request for his birthday was to play sloshball. Talk about bringing us all back to our late teens and early 20s. Sloshball is a form of baseball that involves drinking a beer at second base. usually played by young, obnoxious, drunk men in college. However, we were going to play the game with a bit more class (or so we thought). A bunch of Jon’s friends came into town and even my dad played the game. It was such a fun time, and I think Jon had the best time of all.
I left the game a bit early because I had another engagement at a winery. I was a little hesitant to leave the game and drive up to the north county, but I am so very glad I did. The summer solstice wine event was fun and the wine was good, but even better was the little reunion that occurred.
When I moved to this town in 1995 I was 19 years old. I moved with some friends, and the first person I met outside my roommates was Matt whom I worked with. Matt was actually from a town that neighbored the town I grew up in. Matt had been living in town for about a year, I believe, and I’m not kidding when I say about 20 or so of his friends also lived in this town. Through Matt I met many friends, including Maddie’s dad, my friend Colleen, my friend Jenn, and Steve.
It was an incredible time and there was this two-three year period (before I had Maddie) when we all hung out all the time. There was one house that we all seemed to gather at–a house where about 5 boys lived. These boys were honestly the first men I met that taught me what good men, gentlemen really, are like. I was so used to boozy, immature high school boys from my home town that meeting these boys can be likened to opening my eyes to manners, and respect, and consideration. They opened doors for me and all their guests, women and men. They offered friends water (or beers). They cooked dinners. They were considerate when I was at their house and doing homework. They tried–unsuccessfully–to teach me the fine art of baseball. They were so different from boys I had known before. Kind really. In fact, I often think how much I’d like to thank their moms for doing such a good job.
After I had Maddie, I quietly slipped into the life of a mom, a student, an employee, and person with responsibilities and many of these boys moved back to their hometown, and other than the friends that still live here, I haven’t seen these old friends in over a decade.
Until Saturday at the winery. The main reason so many traveled up to the area was because another old friend, who still does live in the area though I rarely see him, is part-owner of this winery and invited everyone. To show up to this event and see all these people I haven’t seen in a decade was not only fun, but almost magical. We sat around a table, drank wine, and told old, old stories that made me laugh until my side hurt. In many ways, we’re exactly the same, though more mature with kids and responsibilities, but still…the core of our personalities is still there, and it honestly felt like no time had passed.
From the winery, I met my friend Leslie for a movie and then a glass of wine. And I wanted her advice.
I had–rather all of a sudden–been thinking about a novel I started writing about six years ago and this past week I revisited it, knowing where I wanted the plot and character to go. It’s silly how this story came back to me, but it basically started with me commenting on a friend’s facebook status, and I liked what I wrote, and then suddenly, I just knew that comment would, or maybe could, be the first line of that old novel I had started so long ago. I had abandoned the novel because I felt stuck and lost with the writing, and quite frankly, my life was going too well for me to write. I tend to write better when I’m depressed. I’m in no way depressed right now, but there’s something about this summer, this moment of pause I’m having about my age and life, that makes me feel better equipped to write more truthfully.
I wanted Leslie’s advice because I know nothing about fiction writing and she has an MFA. While her MFA is in poetry, I still figured that she’d have some good thoughts. Right now, the novel’s in first person, but I’m debating changing it to third person. Leslie advised to stick with the first person as it offers more immediacy and intimacy with the reader. Which felt good, because writing in third person may be too difficult for me: I can’t fathom how to get in every character’s head nor do I feel the need to have any God-like powers over my characters (even if I decided to go with a third person limited point of view).
I shared with Leslie the whole plot and my struggle with how the ending should go since I still haven’t decided what decision the main character will make. And she liked my idea, which made me feel ecstatic. And ready to write again. So I made some serious edits because a lot of what I wrote six years ago is embarrassingly bad.
But I’m also nervous. I think I can do this. I mean, if I write 250 words a day then I can foresee finishing a rough, rough, rough draft by the end of summer. But the mountain seems so high right now, especially after talking with Leslie because she is a poet, and I love beautiful language even more than plots, and Leslie just gets the beauty of language (I mean, even her facebook posts are gorgeous. Case in point, her last update: “Tonight I believe we each have one honest gesture; not that other gestures are dishonest, but one, in the course of a life, might change things. So every note, word, touch becomes practice for something greater…yes, I’m talking about tilting a life on its axis.”).
Seriously, who writes like this?
Leslie. Which makes me feel like I’ll never accomplish beautiful language, but that’s alright because I’m not Leslie, but I’ll use her not only for advice (and our obvious friendship), but also as a challenge: a challenge to make it up the mountain, to the very top and look at the words I wrote spread across the sky, scattered and disconnected, and then rearrange them into something honest and beautiful.
Well, I’ll try at least.
The weekend ended Sunday morning when I woke up–still without kids–and went over to my friend Andy’s house for coffee, conversation, and the New York Times.
After this long, fun weekend my kids returned to me, and I felt relieved and happy to have them back in my arms. But there was a part of me that was longing for the freedom I had this weekend. The freedom to roam where I wanted, to wake up when I felt like it, to take care of no one but myself. I never appreciated nor thought about this before I had kids, and I became a parent at 23 years old. My entire youth shifted and all my focus has since been on my kids. Which is good. And I think the parent in me, the all-consuming mama, is the best part about me and my character.
But sometimes there is this purling inside of me to step back in time. To be 21 again. To have no responsibilities. But to be this way with the sensibilities I have now. I’d like to go back to the young me and whisper in my ear, “Leave. Go travel the world. Experience everything you can. Let go of that Catholic guilt. Roam the streets of Italy by yourself. Be more comfortable with who you are. Be more self-assured and confident. Don’t be afraid to show emotion. You don’t always have to be so hard. Open up to the possibilities.”
The thing is most of this advice I have learned throughout the years and the younger me wouldn’t have understood it. I still need to work on some of it, but I believe having these few free weekends a month will help me accomplish that. No, I can’t go to Italy for the weekend, but I can do something just for myself. I can be open to the possibilities. To the brief freedom.
I think this will make me a better mama and a better person.
The past is sexy, always.so.damn.sexy. The movie Leslie and I saw was Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. And it was so good. Amazing even. Sure it was not as deep as some of his finer films (though not as bad either as some of his newer films like Match Point) and the literary characters were a bit overdone, and the main point was rather didactic, but still, it was whimsical and witty and it tackles the whole idea of longing for the past, though in this case the past is more generational, but the point holds true for all of us looking backwards. The main character, Gil, learns that it is better to accept the present for what it is. And then he quotes the famous Faulkner line: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
At some point we all must have a moment of pause where we wonder, like David Byrne, “well, how did I get here?” I think it’s good to stop and think this.
I think it’s good to consider that it’s the “same as it ever was, same as it ever was, same as it ever was.”
Existential. Sisyphusian. True.
But that doesn’t make it unconquerable.