Friday, January 30, 2009

Fire and Ice

"Fifty-fifty, fire and ice," Joni Mitchell sings in Be Cool. 
The lighted trees in the park outside my window glow all night and the amber light seems hot enough to melt the ice sculptures carved in honor of Winter Carnival, but hot and cold seem to have found their balance here in downtown St. Paul.
My divorced life has been hot and cold. I've wished Mr. Ex dead. I've wished he would come back to me. I've wanted him jilted by his new love, disbarred, dismembered, discarded by our daughters, but I'm finding that this winter I can't work up the heat for that sort of wrath. The frozen Mississippi River is stalled between its banks and I'm wondering if my molten flow of rage is just temporarily stalled, too or if I'm really getting to the other side of this monstrous heartbreak. You're a fool if you can't keep cool, Joni says, and yeah, I have this image in my head where I'm stepping out of a river of fire, done with being that angry love-sick fool and newly baptized in a realization that I can't quite put into words.
I don't believe in God or heaven or hell. But I do believe in something divine that resides in each of us. I believe fervently in love as a force beyond all imagining and that this supreme energy survives death and that the love of a person dear to us  visits us across the miles and even from beyond the grave in sometimes very tangible ways.
July of '07 to January '09 is a long time and I have been borne across these months by love from a distance and love close enough to put its arms around me and hold me until morning.
Friends, family, fellow writers, in-laws (I refuse to think of them as "ex") strangers on airplanes, taxi drivers, and fellow bloggers I may never meet face-to-face have given solace, understanding, and pure, pure love. Without it, I'd be standing on the bridge eyeing the icy water below instead of marveling at how fresh snow glitters--really glitters--under the streetlights, and yes, dreaming  of spring.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I leave for another writer's residency in a few hours and for the first time since July of '07, I leave the City of Angels reluctantly.
"Now is all we get, ever." This is what a person I like very much says. 
Now I am in L.A. 
Tomorrow I will be somewhere else.
But NOW--tonight--I am here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Poster on the Wall in the Burbank Airport

I was blind once. My eyes had to be patched for 48 hours after I scratched both my corneas by wearing my contact lenses (the old-fashioned hard ones) for too long.  I woke up the next morning unable to open my eyes in the sunlight. After a trip to the ER, Mr. Ex drove me home and made me beef stroganoff. Eating is  awkward when you are newly blind. You can't find your knife or fork or the plate, and getting a sauce-covered noodle into your mouth is nigh unto impossible. Mr. Ex fed me my dinner that night back when we loved each other.

Love is blind, too--or so the saying goes.  But I don't really believe that any more than I believe that justice is blind. I think we lovers see the writing on the wall and choose to ignore it--bind our eyes against the truth and go on our merry way until the wall falls on us and we can't ignore it and its messages any longer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Beginning

When I took my dogs for a walk this evening my neighborhood smelled like roses and jasmine. The Santa Ana winds have abated and there's some moisture in the air.
I feel better about everything. Absolutely everything

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Write the Story of Your Life in 10 minutes?

I have a much older half-brother. Maybe he's 70. And maybe he's not my half-brother. He could be just a step-brother. That's a secret my father took to his grave. But that's another whole family tree blog that I don't plan on starting though if I did the title might be Can Only See the Forest, Not the Tree. Or maybe Family Bramble. Or Through Thicket and Thin. Or how about Please Tell Me Who My Siblings Are In Case I Need A Kidney? Anyhow, my aunt just emailed me and said J. seems to have a girlfriend. Cool. HOW DO PEOPLE DO THIS?  
I had date #5 with the guy last night and I am just completely stymied. How many Friday night dinners and Saturday night theatre dates will it take before I feel like I know him? How do people get to know one another when there's more past than future? Every day that ticks by is one more calendar square of some stranger's/future date's life that I have no clue about.
The theatre piece we went to last night was a series of vignettes performed by women writers on the subject of motherhood. Crucial bits of these women's lives LIVE ON STAGE. I went because my friend Elizabeth was in it. We've taken memoir writing classes together and are in a writing group. Memoir cuts to the chase. You learn your fellow memoir writers' big stories right away.  I've never shared a meal with Elizabeth at her dining room table. I've never gone to the movies with her, prowled the mall, lazed the day away with her on the beach, babysat her kids, but I know her big story--the thing that has changed her into who she is now, and she knows mine.  
But how do I get to know this guy I like, that I'm probably repelling because I am so stand-offish and look at him like he's a stranger? Should I date only memoir writers? Not too many men there.
Mr. Match practically leapt into his car to drive away from me last night. Maybe if I ever see him again I'll ask him to write me the story of his life in 10 minutes.  This is a writing exercise that's often used in memoir classes. There's an even shorter version of this idea that's come out in an anthology called Six Word Memoirs.  Some examples are: "One long train ride into darkness." (Wayne Colodny) "Wolf! she cried.  No one listened." (May Lee) I think perhaps this idea originated with a Dickens' character in Great Expectations, one of the books I'm currently obsessed with.  When Magwitch tells Pip the story of his life, this is how he puts it: "In jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail, in jail and out of jail. There, you've got it". 
That's what I want--well, not that exactly, but THE STORY.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Is This Asking Too Much?

"You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy whose heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since--on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets.  You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with. The stones of which the strongest London buildings are made, are not more real, or more impossible to be displaced by your hands, than your presence and influence have been to me, there and everywhere, and will be. Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil. But, in this separation I associate you only with the good, and I will faithfully hold you to that always, for you must have done me far more good than harm..."

Pip to Estella/Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Style Award

I got my hair cut today at the salon I've gone to for the last several years.  The salon is in the L.A. suburb where I used to live with Mr. Ex and one of his partner's wives goes there, too. Turns out that a week or so ago the partner's wife told her stylist that her husband will soon turn into her own Mr. Ex. He cheated on her and dropped the big D-I-V-O-R-C-E bomb on her right before Christmas. They have three little kids.  Honestly, most of the partners in this firm should get some kind of an Oscar for best performance as cheaters and liars.  It's a style thing. This is what they do. And they do it well. Speak into the microphone, guys. Let's hear that acceptance speech. Who ya gonna thank?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Who Gets the Angels?

"I gave San Francisco to a woman," my ride from the airport says.  I like it that he understands what I mean when I tell him I've had trouble being in L.A.  "It's a problem when a freeway exit sign represents a person and the experiences you've had with that person," he says.  He really gets it, I think as the 110 curves through downtown. "There's Mr. Ex's building," I say as the damn thing looms over us in the urban glow like a monolith that maybe has a mind of its own and just might want to tip over right now and crush us.  He looks over at me and nods.  This guy isn't a taxi driver.  He's a Match. com guy and the ride from the airport is date #3.  We've been emailing the whole while I've been away--not obsessively--just very few days or so and I like him even better than I did when I left.  But the only thing I know about where our relationship is headed is simply that he's giving me a ride home from the airport.  One date at a time.  It's all I can manage. 

I panicked in the jetway.  What if I didn't recognize him? That last time I saw him, we'd sat in the dark at a dance concert.  What if he didn't recognize me?  Airport fluorescent isn't my best look.  What if he recognized me and pretended he didn't and walked away?  But when the escalator delivered me to the hallway outside of baggage claim he was there at the bottom--pretending to hold up a sign.

I had a fantasy for months after the marriage ended.  Whenever I came back from a trip, I'd imagine Mr. Ex had changed his mind and there he was at the airport waiting for me.  He was holding a sign and it said, Take Me Back or I'm Your Vehicle, Baby, a line from a Chicago song he'd always quote if he gave me a ride somewhere. Mr. Ex never showed up.

But now here I am in a car with a guy that did show up and we're driving through my past in the City of Angels.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Incredible Lighted-ness of Being in St. Paul

There must be a city ordinance that requires all trees within downtown St. Paul to be festooned with lights. Deciduous trees, stories-high evergreens, thigh-high shrubs in pots--all of these trees are bedecked in the blocks surrounding the St.Paul Hotel. White lights, red, green, purpleandredandgreen together. The effect is breathtaking. The days are short here in the dark middle of winter-- and maybe it's a mental health issue. Maybe some repected mental health professional has insisted that there be light. All I know is that the lights come on at dusk and are still on when I open my eyes in the 6:00 a.m. pre-dawn darkness.
Imagine this in a forest of light:
You are waiting for the bus and you hear sleighbells. It's a throaty ring--the baritone in the choir of bells and you have no idea where the sound is coming from. Then you see it. Silver, the size of a golfball, attached to the loop of a young woman's backpack. The bell rings because she is stamping her feet to keep warm on the packed carpet of snow next to the bus stop. Her hands are in her pockets and the fur-trimmed hood of her parka is pulled tight around her face, but still, she looks cold.  A young man standing a few feet away from her had searched for the source of the sleighbellls just like you and now he looks up from his phone and smiles.  He takes a couple of steps toward her. "Rudolph?" he says. She laughs and doesn't back away. "Guide my sleigh tonight?" he asks, emboldened.  They've turned to face one another now, and she laughs again.  He bows his head  a little and shakes it--laughing perhaps at his own wit.  He looks like a deer showing off his antlers.  
This could be the beginning of something, you think, here at the bus stop in a city burning with light.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I leave Nebraska in the morning.  The MFA residency is over.  My relationship with Nebraska is not.  Mr. Ex grew up here and I chose this MFA program when we were still married.  It would be nice to have midwestern connections if we retired here, I thought.
I was drifting off to sleep when I heard the whistle of a train going through Nebraska City. More than a hundred trains per day go through the small town  a couple of hours away from here where Mr. Ex's mother lives and I have 32 years of memories of visiting her there.  A few days each visit...that's  9,600 or so  train whistles and I can't hear that sound without thinking of Mr. Ex--and train whistles are inherently a sad sound.  When I heard the whistle tonight, a question for him formed on my lips.  Are you happy? I asked him as I lay in bed here alone-- and if this were a few months ago I would have emailed this question directly to him. And then I would have gotten in a bad kind of groove and emailed him 50 more questions. But I don't do that anymore. I don't need to because I'm taking Mr. Ex's homeland for my own. These brown branches are mine, the dirty snow, and the last of the berries hanging from the trees.  This is where we loved each other, where one of our daughters was conceived, and I claim each dry stalk of cut bean and grain as mine. I claim the rivers and the wind, his brother, his brother’s wife and his  mother and everyone else in his family. I claim the trains and their lonesome whistles, the Willa-Cather-beauty of this state and every word I write here as mine alone.