BOY: Mommy, are minotaurs real? ... Because, if they're real, then this is amazing.
MOMMY: It's a legend.
BOY: Oh. (pause) What's a legend?
MOMMY: It means... It means we don't know.
BOY: Oh. (wistfully) But this would be really amazing...
Sigh. One more reason why I go to bookstores, and one more reason why I write: because some stories could still be true... and that's enough for me.
And these books are another galaxy, another place where all I have to do is stretch my hand out... and which book will fall into it? CS Lewis, or Anne Perry, or PG Wodehouse? A bit of botany or the series on world history or the shelf full of epics?
Bookdrunk, I call it. That dizzy euphoria I always feel around so many pages of words. Heady and upsweeping and unfailing. That delirious knowing that no, no, I could never live long enough to read or write them all.
But I could try.
I hope I can admit it when I'm wrong. So this is me, admitting: as far back as I can remember, I've declared (rather passionately) that I hate summers. Hate them. Which usually makes people look at me as if I've said something inhuman. What kind of a girl hates summer?
A girl who dislikes slow suffocation, I grumble back. St. Louis humidity is not a gentle thing. And so I prefer what I call Jane Eyre weather over a sizzling July. Not a hard choice.
But they haven't been summers like this.
Today was another gorgeous day, another blaze of writing productivity, another glorious evening. They are gifts, days like this.
A simple supper of eggs and toast, and coffee with Kristen. The coffee taken out to our new deck--recently replaced amidst all the home renovating going on here. The old deck was very exciting but not inviting: you didn't know when and where you might fall through. This new one is entirely inviting. It invited us and our coffee and a dozen hungry mosquitoes.
But the evening was perfect. Perfect. For drinking hazelnut coffee and talking about everything--our weeks and what was on our minds. She introduced me to Owl City, music that completed the summer air.
She worked on a painting, and I decoupaged our ... what to call it? It's the thing that hangs in a foyer to cover the guts of the doorbell. That hideous olivey-puce bit of plastic. That. Covering it is a social service, a saving of civilization...
So we talk. Rave about coffee. Swat mosquitoes. Spray bug repellent. Then find a mosquito actually sitting on the repellent bottle. Consider effectiveness of repellent. Continue swatting. I stick my fingers together with decoupage glue. She stands back to judge her painting. We turn the music up.
We're there until the light is nearly gone, and I am squinting at my project. The sunset would make every artist devote her life to the study of clouds. What kind of God makes the sky his ever-changing, breath-taking canvas? As we're marveling, the bat flicks through.
And then we're shouting at it, cheering it on. Eat those mosquitoes! It is very welcome here.
She has a petsitting job, so I go with her to visit Phoebe. Phoebe the Wonder Dog, I call her. She is so frightened of me that I spend the visit apologizing as she quivers away from me. So I wander the garden behind her house, smelling the flowers, and thinking about gardens at night. On the ride home, I look at the profiles of other drivers. And I think that profiles for some artists (or some writers?) could be what clouds are to others...
So it was a day for revising. For changing my mind. A week like this will make me uproot my thesis about summer, my dissertation on humidity and glare and hundred-degree heat. I will love rainy days and sleet and fog and their accompanying atmosphere, no question. But I think now I have room for loving summer, this kind of summer. Let's make them all like this, please.
It was a full day. And I'm up too late. But there is something intoxicating about such beauty. I hope that it's contagious. That maybe, if I stare long and hard enough, it will soak in, and pour through my dreams. I'll go find out.
It's one of those summer weeks when one day blends into another. They slip past, and then I raise my head and realize that it's summer and it's glorious.
Today was a day of moving the novel along (amazingly), putting one line after another, in the wake of unexpected encouragement. Rediscovering my characters' voices, shuffling through my scene lists, catching the thread of the story again. Watching yellow finches somersault on the bird feeder. Admiring the way the sun falls on the pine tree outside my window.
A fantastically exciting package arrived from this lovely girl, and culinary adventure it was! My dinner plans gave way to a gorgeously simple dinner of pasta and bread, lifted out of the box, a summer Christmas. Crusty bread that went straight into the oven and then into our mouths, dribbled with harissa... Harissa igniting my ignorant tongue, and a blissful artichoke tomato sauce on perfect pasta. Hooray for Zingerman's deli: I am now a firm believer.
Mom and Kristen and I eat and talk. I watch a hummingbird outside and decide for the eighteenth time that the sight of them must have inspired all myths of fairies. I have Italian songs playing in the background, and the girls and I compare notes for tomorrow, for the last stages of our living room renovation project, for the next two weeks of summer madness. (Because there is always summer madness.) The perfect remedy for insanity: one of us perfects a French-Russian accent that would put even Natasha Fatale to shame.
Then to the nearby ice cream stand for twist cones, my fingers getting sticky as I listen to the crazy neighborhood conversation. (If you want absurd conversation, get thee to an ice cream stand. Bring a notepad.) We come back to finish BBC's Little Dorrit, so our room fills with Dickens, my newest knitting project, the painting Kristen is working on. I think maybe, maybe, the neightborhood bat will skitter above our yard come twilight.
And as the day slowly gives itself to peaceful night, it's enough to make me revise my usual woolen, chilly, rainy day attitude, and say yes, summer. I love you after all.
I love walking through foggy days, and especially foggy nights. They remind me of London or my college years in Grand Rapids. The world feels more intimate: closer, softer, yet more dangerous. Streetlights form pale tents. Footsteps sound strangely near. Every man should wear a trench coat; every woman can play the femme fatale. Let me pull on my fingerless gloves, hand me a cup of coffee, and ooh, yes, I love the fog.
But not when it's settled over my brain and swathed my writing plans in sticky mist.
I feel like I'm still thinking through a haze, and after two solid months, it is making me crazy. I can't even fully identify what's wrong.
I've done what I know to do: I took long reading breaks to indulge in fabulous novels. I eased up on my writing goals. I cooked up a storm, hoping to entice my creativity home. (Plum crepes, anyone?)
Then I tried pressing harder, cranking out 8000 words in two days, pushing my writing hours farther and farther. I've drunk enough coffee to wake a yak.
But there's still a greasy thumbprint where my brain used to be, and I don't know what to do anymore.
Perhaps the sun will burn the mist off, or rain will come and exhaust the clouds. Whichever it takes, I hope it hurries. My characters' voices are distant and strange in this weather, and I can't see them clearly enough to know whether they're walking toward me or moving farther away.
Or maybe they found a pen on the sidewalk, and are changing this story behind my back, writing me out of my place...
On my second day in Bermuda, I realized something. Sitting by the window, staring down at Hamilton's professionals walking by, tourists trying out mopeds on the wrong side of the road, palm trees waving back at me... and then looking at the blank notebook in my lap.
And I finally understood why I hadn't been writing, why my poor little book was sitting at a crossroads.
There was a string of calamities, from major to minor, during my spring: a time I'm now affectionately calling "the perfect storm." If I had sat down and strategically plotted a way to uproot my connection to my writing life, I could not have done better.
I desperately needed to get back on my plan, back on track. I'd hoped to turn my Bermuda trip into a page-producing machine, but on day two, I realized I was completely emptied of energy, of words, of imagination.
And that maybe there was a lesson in Bermuda beyond just a score of closely written pages.
All I had to do was look out at the roofs across the street. Bermudians depend on the rain: when it washes those white stairstep roofs, it drains into a cistern and becomes drinking water. If Bermuda teaches one thing, it's this: if there's nothing in the cistern, there's nothing coming out of your faucets. (Ask my sister, who was once caught with suds in her hair when the cistern went dry...)
I was lying in bed one night, listening to the rain outside and the water gurgling through pipes to the cistern, and I finally put it all together. Maybe if I want to write again, I should try putting back into myself. Seeking the creative equivalent of a long, steady rain.
That revelation overthrew my plans for the rest of the week. Instead of "words logged," I measured my days by how many hours I could daydream while looking out the window. I took the time to find the coziest places to sit. I drowned myself in reading--a new novel, Winston Churchill's Birth of Britain, a copy of Gourmet... I planned other reading vacations for myself, deciding to spend many more hours reading with intentionality.
It was coming back home that I realized something else: when I need perspective, I need a plane. There's something about lift-off, about watching everything below you shrink to a toy village, and all your problems are so much dust by comparison.
It gets even better at night. I spent the flight from Atlanta to St. Louis with my forehead pressed against the window, feeling all of seven years old, lost in the otherworldly landscape below. Atlanta became the dream of a city, its thin interstates lit with the pinpoint beams of tiny cars. The whole city was a web strung with light, amber constellations forming the cul-de-sacs, neighborhoods, towns... broken by shining green planets of baseball stadiums. (How many stadiums do you have, Atlanta? I was amazed.)
I couldn't take my eyes away. It was the mundane made mysterious, I suppose. Streetlights look fantastic and ethereal from 15,000 feet. They wink through the trees, and beyond them are the great black voids without light. Then in the distance, another city like a galaxy.
(saint louis from the air)
A string of thunderstorms at the horizon made it perfect. The yellow flashes in the distant clouds looked like a storm in a romantic painting--that goldeny lightning, bursting in slow motion. Absorbed in the high drama of it all, this landscape so strange, I half-expected the calm, canned flight attendant voice to announce Welcome to the edge of the known world. I came off the plane dizzy, excited, ready for a dozen novels at least...