A house on the sea and a foot in the city, Violet used to tell me dreamily. She meant Paris, of course, and the coast of Maine–never the reverse, “American cities are so vulgar,” Violet would say. When we were younger I actually believed one day we’d still be living down the hall from each other, with me extracting choice camisoles from her closet, and her sleeping until noon.
One summer, when we were 14 and 12, our parents took us to the coast of Spain. They went to bed early every night, so we explored the Costa del Sol with a guileless innocence. I was afraid of men at 14, but Violet looked at them like they were another species, to be studied and understood. Her sexuality was awkward and some nights I’d beg her not to wear a certain dress because she embarrassed me. But she’d shimmy her bottom in too short skirts after I walked first into bar or a restaurant. Violet welcomed the attention we got from the dark Andalusian men. I preferred to sample deserts and sweet liquers before scurrying back to our lovely ocean side auberge to write it all down in my journal. I though Violet would want to record her experiences too, she was the writer in the family after all, but we must not have caught the same jet lag, because she turned into a night owl while I relished every sun drenched day.
Eager to get back to my room one night, I left a dark dance club in exasperation when Violet repeatedly ignored my pleas to move along. I lost her. I should have stayed and searched for her, but I thought her admirers would look after her. I should have held her tightly by the hand. She was only 12.
Violet returned mid morning the next day. She was barefoot and gleeful. We took a walk on the rock of Gibraltar, and she collapsed into fat tears when one of the naughty monkeys stole the fedora she had returned with that morning. Our father had to console her with a visit to Prada to find a new pink wallet to take her mind off the tragedy. Everything that day was irrational, but at the time it seemed completely normal. Violet didn’t sleep until late that night, when she guiltily stayed in with me to watch Audrey Tatou movies. I quizzed her on what she had done, but she was vague. My questions were eventually returned with blank stares and vacant gaps in my attempts at conversation.
When we got home two weeks later, our relationship was markedly different, and that sense of shadowy superficiality never disappeared. Violet closed her bedroom door, and took mysterious daily walks to the post office. We’d never shared our diary entries out loud again.
For college, I studied marine biology in Bar Harbor, while she started at Hampshire, transferred to the American University in Paris, then back home to Boston University. I’m still unsure if she received a degree. That is the way our life so quickly and precariously unraveled. We saw each other along the way, long weekends during the semesters and longer weeks over the summers. But I was never clear what she was looking for, even what she majored in, besides boys and parties. I can pinpoint the end of our childhood though, when I stopped believing in her innocence, and she stop seeing me as infallible.
Now, Violet and I see each other every other year or so. We talk on the phone sporadically, but have never sustained regular conversations. I send her pictures of my son, usually with terse or no reply. I can’t remember the last time I saw a picture of her face, so to me Violet always looks 12.
Writer’s note: For this post, the name of this bloc, In Progress is very apt!
His head had been aching all morning. He work up with the throb, but instead of yielding to the pain he pushed on, even swallowed two Tylenols. He didn’t believe medicine worked, but when he stopped for gas it was there on the counter while he paid for his coffee. It felt good, coolly sliding down his throat on a stream of tepid black coffee as he sat at his desk at work. Maybe I can still play well this afternoon. These types of physical ailments, head aches especially, were something his female employees complained about, or he read about in Time magazine. He maintained a strict regime of diet, exercise, sleep, sex, meditation and fresh air.
At three o’clock every Friday, he played in a tennis match. He’d met this particular opponent before, a long legged blonde who he’d seen around town before too. It was not a big town. Their match was close the previous time, but as if unwilling to lose to a girl, he prevailed and made a few questionable line calls in the final set.
He sat at his computer, looking over the day’s work while waiting for the medication to take effect. It felt good going down, but now the glare from his computer made his suffering worse, and he felt his skull shrinking. He was unable to think about anything except the pressure on his head, and then he thought again about his afternoon match. It might not be too late to postpone. The thought of the blonde’s legs cooled his ache slightly, but when he placed his fingers on his keyboard, it returned ten fold, and he doubled over. His large office contained a sofa, for what use he was unsure, but now he was aware that it would be appropriate for him to close the blinds, stretch out, and let this head ache run its course. He told his secretary to hold calls, closed the door to his office, and rested. Despite the eight ounces of coffee, he slept almost immediately. He dreamed of hospital beds and being vaccinated, the unbearable urge to watch your own blood coursing through sterile rubber tubes as your veins pump into the open space. He dreamed of a sexy nurse and a cruel doctor who wanted to sew rackets to his hands to improve his game. He woke with creases on his face, his suit wrinkled and his head ache untouched. He sat up and drank one of the bottles of water that stood on the coffee table nearby, guzzled it in a single swallow, then lay back, panting. As he calmed down, he looked through the blinds and noticed it was afternoon light. How long had he slept? He looked at his watch. It was 3 o’clock. He’d lose the match by default.
Creation is a funny thing: concentration improves with age, but imagination (an essential ingredient) wanes. It is a muscle not unlike the gluteus maximus or the biceps femoris. Imagination requires a wide array of highly individualized nourishment. Some, like myself, prefer nature (trees and water, specifically). Others find their muse in bourbon, animals, museums, watercolors, rivers, and clouds.
It is hard to say why trees inspire me the way they do: maybe their versatility, resilience, properties of regeneration, and magnificence. Every growing thing starts off as a small seed, and trees are a quintessential example of this tremendous change. I hope the arc of my life will one day show such a grand spectrum of experience.
Sometimes, I want to go back in time, revisit my languid days of idle leisure to bottle up as much sleep and boredom as I can possibly handle. Life is so full now, sleeping late and ennui are rare occurrences. So as I am approaching the youth of my middle age (it is nearly 6 months from my 30th birthday after all) it is interesting to reflect on the creations of my life so far. There are fewer moments of quiet awe when I am infused with ideas. My moments of astonishment are usually accompanied by shrieks of joy from my son’s first steps and new tastes; my days are immediate, noisy with streaks of peanut butter, wonder and tears.
I can’t go back in time, and I don’t really want to (well, maybe some Saturday mornings I’d like to sleep until 9). What I’ve lost in rest, I’ve gained in patience. I wasn’t meant to have my grand moments young. My life’s work at age 30 is vastly different from what I thought it would look like, but if I ponder it deeply, I know it is still important, and that greatness is possible whether I am changing a diaper or changing my perspective.
As Sarah sat waiting for the nurse to retrieve her paper cup of two generic headache pills, she rummaged around in a box of glasses next to her chair. They were all sizes and colors, and after examining a few pairs, she slipped some rectangular green frames into the backpack slung by her feet. When she tried them on in the girl’s room five minutes later, she smiled at herself broadly. Her vision was slightly altered with the green glasses. She felt more confident. Her features blurred in the corroded mirrors above the sinks as she concentrated on the details of the frames, and she tossed her hair around her shoulders to perfect the image for herself. She might even pass as pretty with these green glasses. Her pale face did not look so boring. This would be the day her life changed, though stealing glasses from the charity box was such an impetuous event, Sarah would never trace it back to that moment. Her vision would slowly adjust to the slight nearsightedness that the lenses corrected, and in the weeks to come, she would be stare absently at distant faces, not realizing she was gazing directly into their eyes.
Note: I’m inspired to write short exercises of Friday Fiction, in the spirit of this blogger.
Things NaNoWriMo Taught Me
- I enjoy meticulously obsessing over the wording of each sentence and phrase.
- How to write a great quantity of words each day.
- That when I write in a hurry, I lose track of my plot.
- How much fun it is to get wrapped up in a story and characters of your own creation.
- The types of background noise that is acceptable. I particularly enjoy foreign background music, like this, this,and this; and of course, the elusive sound of silence.
- Research is half the battle.
- Procrastination isn’t as terrible as it is made out to be.
- I can do amazing things with an hour to myself in the middle of the day.
- Anne Lamott doesn’t know everything, and though it pains me to admit it, Ian McEwan isn’t perfect either. A writer is as good as his flaws.
- I think faster than I can type.
- Longhand is a great tool too.
- I enjoy non-fiction writing as much as fiction.
- The bed is a fine place to peck out some words, but a proper desk and chair, and preferably one without a cushion, is the best place for me to focus for long periods of time. Add a cup of coffee or tea and I could sit for hours.
- Getting outside to be among the trees is important for letting creativity loose. So is proper sleep, though a certain amount of fatigue elicits a certain amount of honesty.
I did it! Just wanted to share my achievement here. 50,949 totally original, unusual, & mostly incoherent words. I really had to stretch it out towards the end, the last 4,500 words are essentially stream-of-consciousness. Maybe I was channeling my literary heroine, Virginia Woolf (maybe we’re related.)
Being Gentle in a Cutthroat World
She Was Not Afraid
House Hunting Internationally
The City of Sordid Glamour
The Under Dog’s Finish
Loose Teeth and Sharp Tongues
Liberation, Sadness, Delicate and Divine
The Angel’s Missing Eyebrows