Commonplace

seeking the story in the ordinary

february may have been fleeting, but it was filled with these good things*

1 people-watching in a fast food joint
2 the second the hot shower water first hits your skin

3 a hug following a fight

4 family that feels like friends
5 a beer before bed
6 looking through old love letters
7 waking from a bad dream to realize it’s just that

8 a single plume of smoke rising from distant woods

9 a snow day with dear neighbors who help dig you out of your driveway
10 the heartening messages on this church sign, a mile down the roadimg_9059

11 winding country roads under a winter sun

12 waking in the dark early morning to write
13 a sweet valentine from my sonfullsizeoutput_6261
14 a fender bender where everyone is friendly and walks away fine

15 family freeze dance after dinner

16 unexpected mail from a friend
17 finding poetry along your path on a midday walkimg_9199
18 a new piece of writing in progress
19 a quiet coffee with your aging grandmother

20 coming home after having been away awhile

21 spontaneous coffee dates with your spouse

22 driving with the windows down

23 being barefoot
24 happy hour at the neighbor’s house

25 discovering a new-to-you writer who breaks your heart

26 watching a late afternoon thunderstorm through the windowpane
27 a gathering of Muslim & Jewish women to foster unity & understanding & fight hate
28 church bells at dusk

*You can read more about my “good things” project and see all prior posts here.

It was the last day of the year, when I always try to make time more tangible, pin it down, make sense of its passing. When I grapple with what it means to be alive at this place, in this moment.

The kids were playing in the basement—the younger two still battling a cold—and I’d tinker on Twitter from time to time, marveling at how everyone, everywhere was processing the same year end. When I stole away for a midday shower, I thought of a meager way to counter the distressing uncertainty in our broken world and in my buzzing mind. Starting January 1, I would record one good thing every day. I would tweet it out with the hashtag #onegoodthing, I promised, both to hold myself accountable and to bring others in.

For these small snapshots, these shared sentiments, are the same everywhere—bare feet under a cold comforter, freshly fallen snow, a favorite song on the radio, a train platform farewell. Tiny touch points that tie us together across time and space with their quotidian truth. It’s in the commonplace that we find common ground.

I seek what I always do with this space—to doggedly, perhaps foolishly, chase the good, and shed light on all we share.


january

1 the smell of outdoor air in winter
2 a quiet drive on rainy back roads to meet an old friend
3 an interview with @Lin_Manuel on @nprfreshair during afternoon carpool chaos
4 afternoon coffee

5 antique books of poetryc1b7hsmxgaestue

6 early morning snowfall outside the kitchen window
7 an hour to write

8 the smell of wood burning

9 family time around the fireplace
10 communal moments of laughter & levity (also, puns)
11 hearing your child read a book for the first time

12 the long way home

13 farmland as far as the eye can seec2el6fpxeaexpwn
14 This quote from my youngest son: “You have to look. If you close your eyes and you miss things, it’s sad.”
15 the unnecessary kindness of a local store merchant

16 neighbors who look out for you

17 sitting safe and dry inside a car while rain splatters the windshield
18 the rumble of a train passing in the distance

19 a house quiet with kid sleep

20 nostalgia pangs
21 walking, marching, the way humans come together
22 the warm weight of a baby settling to sleep on your chest
23 your poem in print

24 getting swept up in a song that takes you back

25 striking up conversation with a stranger in the waiting room
26 wrapping your hands around a warm cup of tea
27 climbing under cold covers

28 an airport embrace

29 date night
30 the courtesy wave between fellow motorists
31 late-night conversations

Some have been shouting, some stay silent. Everything has changed, yet one day still follows the last, much like it always has.

Our burdens feel heavier, yes. But the beauty feels sharper too. Every small kindness, every gentle exchange. We are more porous somehow, risking both the scalding heat and the soothing salve of letting everything in. We have become more watchful—of our words, our ways with each other.

*

One morning in the week after the election, I woke in the dark and penned a little poem. Because sometimes a simple string of words can capture a shared moment. Because sometimes the sliver of the page is all you have space for.

I’m humbled to have that poem appear in an anthology of 100 post-election writings jointly published by The Rattling Wall and PEN Center USA. You can purchase a copy of the collection, Only Light Can Do That, here. (And below is a sneak peek of the pages with my poem.)

*

We don’t know where we go from here. We’ve taken down our lawn signs; we still work at being neighbors. I feel caught between catastrophe and carrying on.

But I zip my kid’s coat, put the coffee on, pay the bills. Buy peppers. Take long drives. Smile at strangers. Eat cereal before bed. Fold the laundry. Call a friend.

It’s still a beautiful world out there. I hope to see you in it.

fullsizerender-15

 

 

You come from the hill by the lake.

It’s dotted with wooden huts that overlook the water.

On long Saturdays, campers sit on towels stretched below the summer sun—barefooted, knees bent. Or toss frisbees, rest on the rise and fall of a kindred’s chest, seek shade.

Come nightfall, heads tilt toward every star in a midsummer sky. Then they tuck behind bunks where, swallowed by shadows, they share a young kiss.

This is the hill where you trade secrets, wage war against waning memory, bear witness to time’s steady passage. To sunrises. To moonfalls.

You will stand at the edge of this hill, sunscreened and teeth-clenched, determined to swim the length of the lake outstretched beyond it.

You will skinny-dip and dance. Wonder and sing.

This is the hill that will watch you grow.

It sits atop a winding path off Upper Woods Road. You can go the back way if you like. Take the second left onto the dirt road that leads to Equinunk Creek. If you reach the cemetery by the church, you’ve gone too far.

Twenty years ago, I met your father there.

~

That April morning you were born, we rose before the sun. Walked in crisp dark air from the parking lot to the hospital doors. “Feels like camp weather,” I said.

Maybe I should tell you about the night before. We went out for Mexican, cleaned the car. We tucked your brothers into bed. Do you know my favorite days are the ordinary ones? Your Dad’s too.

Now I wait in front of the steely doors of the Operating Room, hair netted and IV-poled, haunted that I can’t see the end of our story. Can anyone? With Paul Kalanithi’s book by my hospital bedside, I wonder: what makes a life? And how does one make it last?

On other floors in this building, people are leaving this world, and here you’ve just arrived. The sunlight has yet to touch your skin. There’s something about hospitals, I think. All manner of humans gather, reduced to their most basic needs, to getting another day, to caring for each other. A hospital is a melting pot of humans helping humans.

That day, the world narrowed to a single hallway—industrial carpeting and floor-to-ceiling windows; my only goal to walk it up and then back down.

All else fell away.

On one of your first nights—the specific smell of the postpartum ward sitting in my nostrils—the melody for “Taps” slips past my lips as I sway to soothe you.

Where we’re from is woven into our words, our world. It is the sounds we start with, the notes we forever hum by heart…

~

Our life was like a song, even before you came along.

You come from the park bench drenched in lamplight in lower Manhattan where I said yes. From dancing in the little apartment on 12th Street and no phone calls till morning.

You come from late nights cruising a hand-me-down Camry along the New Jersey Turnpike, road trips through Western New York, diner coffee, living by the water.

You come from summer camp romances, train platform farewells, mix tapes.

You come from under the boardwalk, R.E.M. concerts in the pouring rain, and New Year’s Eve on the beach.

You come from Old Friends and Bleecker Street, Feelin’ Groovy and April Come She Will.

Hello lamppost, whatcha knowin’ and the only truth I know is you.

You come from two apartments and then a house on the south side of Philadelphia, with a stoop to sit on and a park across the street.

You come from Magnolia cupcakes, study lounges off dim hallways, long dinners with old friends, port wine.

You come from fireflies and 4 AM.

You come from Bunk 53, second to last room on the right.

You come from three sons in quick succession followed by a pause.

And then you came.

DSC_5052

~

On our way home, we wheeled past the recovery room, retracing our steps from days—decades?—ago. You come from there too.

And while we were inside, the seasons changed. The chill was gone from the air and spring had settled in its stead. Get used to it, my girl. Everything will move just a bit faster than you might like.

We left that room behind, where we first uttered your name. Lane Marlowe.

Lane for where we’ve been, what lies ahead.

And Marlowe means “from the hill by the lake.”

We’re all from somewhere.
Where we’re going, no one can know.

But you, my girl. You come from the hill by the lake.

IMG_7210

I found myself on a flight to California the other day to visit family. As we boarded the aircraft, touching our fingertips to the fuselage, these could be my last steps on earth, I think, and then again as we slowly taxi down the runway, these, my last moments in life. Morbid, maybe, but I think it all the same. Conjuring worst case scenarios is my mind’s way of making sense of uncertainty.

I settle in between my mother and youngest son, look across the aisle to my husband, flanked on either side by our older boys. They’re already engrossed in their screens, heads bent, eyes cast downward. They don’t see me stealing a glimpse of their sandy skin, the hair framing their sweet faces—no longer wispy, no longer white blond.

What have I left behind? I wonder. If this is the end, what will remain?

On the two-year anniversary of this blog, I question, perhaps now more than ever, why I’m doing this. Why any of us are. Why we feel compelled to record, to share our stories, to put words to the moments of our mundane lives, to mold meaning out of them.

And yet. Simply by being human, you have a story to tell. I couldn’t believe this more.

I sat back as the plane reached cruising altitude and thumbed the pages of my new book. (New to me, but I’d actually bought it used, as I often do. I love that someone else’s hands held it before my own—the book like a link between two disparate lives.

On this copy of The Art of Memoir, there is a small coffee stain on the back cover, roughly the size of a quarter and, aptly, shaped like Texas. I run my fingertips over the warped paper and wonder about its prior owner, that other life, now seeping into mine.)

Memoir writing begins, Mary Karr writes, with “a curious mind probing for truth . . . a fierce urge to try re-experiencing your own mind and body and throbbing heart alive inside the most vivid stories from your past.” We don’t let things go, we couldn’t if we tried. “Nobody,” Karr continues, “can be autonomous in making choices today unless she grasps how she’s been internally yanked around by stuff that came before.”

We spent the day hurtling against hours, moving backwards across a morning that, it seemed, had no end. The plane pushed against time’s passage, crossing from Eastern Standard into Central, then Mountain, and finally, Pacific. Perhaps if we kept flying, the day would never grow old. Time, temporarily, had nothing on us.

It has been a long, full year since I marked this time last December.

There are the beginnings of a book and a fourth baby.
Several published essays, several more submissions.
A shelf lined with books whose authors I feel I know.
Two months living in the Pennsylvania Mountains with my sons in a beloved camp bunk.
School buses and packed lunches and outgrown shoes and boys who grow bigger and older and read and play and cry and think and fight and love.
Prospects for a move to a town where we might settle, and stay.

It has been a good year in a little life.

When I feel that familiar reluctance to letting it go, I gently chastise myself with these words recently read, “Perhaps all anxiety might derive from a fixation on moments — an inability to accept life as ongoing.”

I stood on the beach last night with my family—four silhouettes in fading light—as the sun slipped behind the sea for one of the last times this year. It was as beautiful as it was irretrievable. You could no more stop its setting as you could wrest it from the horizon with your bare hands. We all must move on, every minute, but we can also make our mark. Line up the words one after another—the days too. Marching together into the unknown. With, at once, a tight grip on our past and palms open to what lies ahead.

So I put pen to paper, make my small, seemingly insignificant imprint on the slippery sands of time. Like the sharpie-scribbled names on backstages or the quotes on camp bunks. Like the initials I dug into the wet cement of the driveway that led to my childhood home—that still remain. I’ve been back, I’ve checked.

I was here, these words say. They evince a dogged determination to make sense of what was—pulling it along like a Radio Flyer wagon—connecting it to what will be.

As I deplaned, past luggage-laden passengers swapping coasts, I turned back toward the aircraft that shuttled us safely across the country—a last look at what I was leaving behind. And then walked on, the wheels of my suitcase sliding over the thin airport carpeting, leaving an ever so subtle trace.

FullSizeRender-5

Look at me, dancing my little dance for a few moments against the background of eternity. – Sarah Manguso

 

Jena Schwartz

Fierce Encouragement for Writing + Life

motherwellmagdotcom.wordpress.com/

Telling all sides of the parenting story

writing at the table

writer & mother, feeding my dream and my family

Do You Read Me? - Carisa Miller

seeking the story in the ordinary

Defining Motherhood

One mom's search for meaning in the madness.

Lemon Shark

Navigating the Uncharted Waters of Life

pull up a chair

where wisdom gathers, poetry unfolds and divine light is sparked...

My Words Go Here

read. write. muse.

Love That Max

seeking the story in the ordinary

Dani Shapiro

seeking the story in the ordinary

Nourished Mom

seeking the story in the ordinary

These Little Waves

seeking the story in the ordinary

Motherese

cultural commentary and musings on modern motherhood

Nina Badzin's Blog

Writing, Reading, Parenting & More

Evelyn A. Lauer

seeking the story in the ordinary

About 100%

seeking the story in the ordinary

Mama One to Three

New York City mama of one. Then three. Give me coffee or give me wine.

Joy, Lovely Joy

Writing through mothering

allisonslatertate

Smile! You’re at the best WordPress.com site ever

Cattywampus - The Blog of Devon Corneal

A Slightly Askew Take on Life

My Jenn-eration

seeking the story in the ordinary

Mama By The Bay

Living on the edge of the Left Coast, parenting a little left of center.

omnimom

the philosophy of parenting, not a parenting philosophy