Musings

Flashback: the Way of the Leaves

I don’t know why, but tonight this little post is on my mind.

I wrote it almost a year ago, but it feels like it was meant for today…  Right now…  In this moment.

Enjoy. ❤

 

I.

Summer opens wet and green:  foolish as first love.

Each leaf unfurls, fearless of frost.  It cannot imagine such a thing as Winter. 

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II.

I have a certain memory:

I am just a girl — nine, maybe ten.

I am balancing on the long railing that runs around our family’s big raised deck.  One foot in front of the other, arms outstretched for balance, I walk a slow circuit, over and over again:  amazed at the feeling of fitting my body carefully between two invisible planes, the crossing of which will send me tipping into a fall.

(I like to test my edges).

*

There are trees in this memory, and there were trees in real life:  a high green canopy at the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp, each ancient oak and cypress shaking so many leaves that the air sounds full of applause.

My father is there, pruning a hedge or cleaning a grill, building something — I can’t remember now.  And he is musing.

I am not really listening to him … not actively, anyway.  He talks both to himself and to me, teasing out the edges of certain thoughts, small hypotheses that make him curious.  We are both this way:  people caught in a current of ideas that interest us.  So he talks and I walk, shifting my center of gravity to my hips, then to my knees, raising myself onto the balls of my feet.  I am testing all the ways that my body can veer from its clean straight line and still remain upright.

I lift an index finger.

I balance on one foot.

I move from one balletic position to another: testing, testing.

And then my father’s voice breaks through my thoughts:

As soon as we’re born, he says, we’re already beginning to die.

*

There is no fear in his voice when he says this — he is not a fearful man, my father.  Just curious.  The only thing I can sense in the words … is wonder.

As soon as we’re born, I think, we’re already beginning to die.  I test out the thought, and it feels true.  And also safe.

A breeze ruffles all the green leaves around us, lifts the hair on my head, the tiny hairs on my arms.  I move my body through the green air and I feel the power of my own physicality, without the maturity yet to understand that this is what I am feeling.

This, I think, without the words to describe what I’m thinking.  This — all of this — is what dying feels like.

And also living.

*

This is the very first moment when the edges begin to dissolve for me:  when the membranes begin to seem comfortably porous.

On the narrow railing, I walk faster, more fluid.  All the air around me parts to let me pass. 

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III.

A week ago, I am driving down a country road that hugs tight to the curves of the river.  

The road runs long through a tunnel of trees, and I am driving behind a tractor trailer, its top so high that it lops off all the low-hanging limbs as it goes, sending a shower of leaves all around me.

We drive, and drive, and the bits of leaves skitter over my hood, slap my windshield.  I think, then, that if I could take this picture in black and white, it would look like Winter:  my headlights cutting a swath not through leaves but through snow, the white flakes floating and spinning in the beams.

I take a breath, and consider, how narrow the divide between one thing and the next:  Winter and Summer.  Brokenness and Beauty.  

And maybe there’s no divide at all.  

My foot eases the gas pedal closer to the floor and I feel the car surge forward toward the bumper of the tractor trailer, see the torn leaves fall thicker and faster, a blizzard of green just cut clean from the stem.

I am thirty-three now.  Old enough to feel the way my days are numbered.  Still — if I take a breath, I can feel my lungs expand to eat the air, my heart pushing the oxygen through me so that it pulses in my fingertips against the steering wheel.

I am a broken thing, and I am breathlessly, astoundingly alive… ❤

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Confessional

I am going to tell you a secret now …

At least once a week, some kind, well-meaning person asks me when I am going to write a book.  And inside, where you can’t see it, I flinch.

Now, the Current Me, the one you can see standing in front of you — she doesn’t flinch.  She stands there with her smooth face and her smile, and she says thank you, she is flattered, and it’s true … I am.

But the Old Me — the smaller, hollow-eyed version of myself who still lives inside me someplace — that version cringes and looks away, and mumbles something nobody can understand.

I don’t always like to talk about the reason why, but I’m going to.  And I’m going to do it now.

*

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A few years ago, I wrote a book — or at least a draft of one.  It was a book about my recovery from anorexia — which is the subject most people want me to say I’m writing about, when they ask me if I’m writing a book.

Like most good first drafts, this one was messy and imperfect, but it was truthful.  It was truthful enough to be the kind of thing that would make you sit up, startled, and shut your mouth.

And then I started editing the draft.

And suddenly it felt like I’d opened up a box of darkness inside my house, and the darkness filled up all the rooms and smeared its gray over the windows so I couldn’t see out.  I’d thought that the darkness was something I’d managed to contain a long time ago, but there it was, That Old Darkness, crashing around the bedroom in the middle of the night.

So I cut out words.

I cut out paragraphs, pages, chapters.

I scribbled the outline onto index cards and laid them all over the tables and floor, trying to figure out where the darkness was lurking so that I might excise it from the text.

And eventually, I figured out that the darkness was everywhere — in the editing process itself.

The same perfectionism that once had driven me to starve myself was now sitting there at the desk with me, wielding the red pencil — only the pencil looked like a knife.

*

I threw the book away.

*

If you’ve ever been in a 100-level creative writing class, you’ve probably heard some adjunct professor tell you to “write what you know.”

Which is good advice, to a point.

But I’ll tell you something that smart writers understand — something they know but don’t like to talk about.

Writing about the past, and especially any part of the past that’s deeply important to you?  I mean deeply, viscerally important? That is a dangerous business.

*

I told you last week that during the month of November, I was going to begin writing once again about my body — its frailty and strength.  Its astounding possibilities.

I was serious about that.

But you know what I won’t be writing about?

My eating disorder.

There are a lot of excellent anorexia memoirs out there, chronicling all the reasons why women (and men) make themselves small.  Why they choose for themselves that strange and deft disappearing act: now you see her, now you don’t.

As for me, though, I don’t want to go back to that old subject right now — the darkness and starvation and drought.

But you know what I do want to write about?

I want to write about the joy of living in this fragile suit of skin.  I want to go out and feel the wind in my hair and the chill on my cheeks — all the small capillaries blooming into a blush — and I want to tell you what that feels like.

I want to photograph myself half-asleep in the sun, drowsing, the yellow light warm on my eyelids.

I want to show you what it looks like to curl my fingers around a smooth river stone, or to touch a birch leaf to my lips, its skin speckled with autumn red.

I want to celebrate myself and sing myself — this Body Electric.  And if that’s something you’d like to read about … well, then, you’ll know where to find me.

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Let’s celebrate something beautiful together.

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Second Glance

Same Body, Second Glance: Day Fourteen

July 14, 2014

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Let’s talk, for a moment, about the hard parts.  The portions of our bodies that are difficult to accept.

The picture I’m sharing with you today is a picture of my knees.  They’re a little strange, as far as knees go.  If I stand with my ankles together, they point slightly toward each other, and there’s a narrow gap between my bowed legs from ankle to thigh.  It’s the sort of thing the average person would never notice — the result of a slight anatomical anomaly, a twist in both my femurs.

Years ago, I was a ballerina, and a decent one — the kind of dancer displayed at best advantage with both feet off the ground.  There’s a term in ballet called ballon (accent on the second syllable), which is the ability to hang suspended at the top of a leap for a longer period than usual.  It is, in essence, the illusion of making time stop while you’re in the air.  That was my gift.  It made me a fun dancer to watch, but more importantly, it brought me joy.  In the middle of a jump, I felt just a little bit transcendent.  

When I was a teenager, and finally just reaching the point where I began to take that art seriously, a certain dance instructor sat down with me to talk about the problem of my knees.  She suggested that if I wanted to go much further with ballet, I’d reached a point where I ought to consider finding a surgeon who could break and reset my legs to improve their lack of linearity.  Ballet is all about the perfection of line, and my legs were plainly imperfect.  No matter what kind of crazy stunts I could pull in the air, those curved lines would always hold me back. 

It wasn’t much later when I quit ballet.

To be honest, I’ve never quite gotten over the feeling that my legs just aren’t right … that there’s a fatal flaw in the machine, one that can’t be overcome by passion or power.  I don’t like myself from the waist down.  Aside from my pajamas, I don’t own a single pair of shorts.  But lately, I’ve begun to believe in the idea that I can see beauty there anyways, if I just teach myself how to look.

Over the next week, I’m going to try to re-see this part of myself.  You’re invited to join in the process.  I welcome your encouragement, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to share my process with you.  It’s a joy, truly.

Thank you. ❤

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This post is part of a series.  To read more, click here.

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