Setting Out for Ithaca

Being in the moment with a 2-year-old requires tuning out a lot of other stimuli, a lot of have-tos and shoulds and want-tos. Lately I find myself cheerfully waiting while Wally sits on the potty saying, "agua coming" and absolutely no agua comes. (Of course it does, in a flood, the minute he stands up and walks off.) But when I'm not rushing, not worried about cleaning the house for company or anxious about meeting a deadline, it's fine. I tell him we'll try again tomorrow. Tomorrow he'll wave again, with surprise and delight, at the little curly-head boy in the mirror. He won’t think it's strange that the boy looks just like him. That he waves at exactly the same time.

Locating all the obsessive thoughts on this blog takes them out of my head. They don't have to spin and spin. They're not final but they're trapped. I can move on. I like the chance it gives for others to say, "You're being ridiculous" or "I would never think that" or "I feel that too" or "I can completely relate." It's all great. (And I don't mean that horrifically phony "It's all good" which always sounds like you are gritting your teeth and clenching your hands under the table.) I mean it's helpful. It's part of a dialogue that I no longer have running through my days the way I did in the past. Which leads me to that cringe-inducing statement I try to avoid: "Having a blog makes you feel less isolated."

It sounds small. Sounds like a Jell-O party. A mom's group with moms you don't like. Freshman fall mixers. Yet posting here helps me to stay focused on "real" writing, has allowed me to slowly, eyes squinting as if into a solar eclipse, face the unwieldy drafts of my two novels, which always call to mind Jay Gatsby's "giant incoherent failure" of a house on West Egg. But more important than breaking through a sense of isolation in the day-to-day (and the desperate feel that conjures up) the blog has helped me be less isolated from the people in front of me. Less separate. Less of an island. (Isolated, from the Latin, to be made into an island.) I don’t feel as much of the push and pull of life in New York. The tug of wars I'd always imagined going on in every conversation, usually with me losing, without the other person knowing there was even a tug.

I have always had to write. I don't understand not doing it. How do you make sense of things without it? I know some people reading this think --how can you make sense of things without knowing where your mailbox key is? Without religion? Without baking fresh pumpkin bread? Without having a meaningful career or a complete set of china or studying the natural world or tending a garden? And I can imagine a compelling argument for the life-blood importance of all of those pursuits.

I just happen to have that dedication to words on paper. It feels like a deal I made a long time ago, in kindergarten maybe, when I first began the painstaking process of inscribing tiny symbols on nearly weightless piece of dead wood. Now I clatter away on the keyboard, in a dark room, face lit by an unnatural blue light. It's making good on that promise, to use those symbols to try to make sense of what is dark and tangled, to try to give purpose and shape to the things that feel meaningful but aren’t clear. I like the idea of having a document, real or virtual, that says we were here, singing showtunes on the steps of the Chin-Rub (Liz, I had forgotten Mailman called it that, but I'm glad you reminded me), that we broke out “See You Boys” at Elinor's wedding, that we had late-night jams in the basement of Panarchy, that we made lists of ridiculous corporate-speak and named it vobabulary, that we drank wine and wrote poetry on rooftops, that we got caught in a lightning storm on the Plains of Abraham, that we sat on the Green at midnight and spoke until our throats hurt, that on workdays we played 1 AM gigs at Trash Bar then came home and made dinner and said, "As long as I'm in bed by 5, I'll be okay", that we broke painted doors in half in the rain and each took one half home, that we drew little towns in the sand at the beach, that we lined up to ride pogo-balls at recess, that we went down to the lake to swim at night, that we screamed in the cafeteria over politics, that we did fake falls in my parents' backyard, that our whole lives we loved a little house called the cottage and then one day we had to give it up. It's like engraving your name into tree trunks. In a few years, it won't mean much of anything to anyone. But for now it's a marker, a record, a sense that we did not simply live a Raisin Bran existence.

But not just that. Not just a virtual yearbook or scrapbook or collection of memories. That would mostly only matter to the people who know me. Can it also be one of those orange flags you wrap around a tree that says -- this is the path we took and we're hoping it's the way out?

If we don't keep twisting and tripping and untangling ourselves in the direction of the light, if we can't take the time to figure things out, if we can't say -- that makes sense but that does not -- if we can't write -- I'm glad I stood up for myself this time, but that time I was stubborn, small-minded -- if we can't see that we're getting better in some ways but worse in others, if we're so caught up in which way other people are going or telling us to go that we can't stop long enough to look at the direction of our own shadows, if we keep circling around and around the same tree, if we look down at the ground and things aren't growing, if we keep seeing that same orange flag, if the light is fading, if we're not covering any new ground, if we're not moving forward, then we're lost.


  1. In one of his most memorable and beautiful lines -- "man must have held his breath...face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder"-- Fitzgerald got it wrong. Childhood days, for those of good fortune, are filled with endless wonder. We all let that lapse to some degree, but for those who let it go entirely, the last (American) childhood is their own. Things that help keep us truly alive are little kids, natural beauty and others marking the trail. Keep blogging.

  2. But Wordsworth got it right --in 1807.

    "The world is too much with us; late and soon,
    Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
    Little we see in Nature that is ours"

  3. While we're on Wordsworth, how about? "Thanks to the human heart by which we live, Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, To me the meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."

  4. Okay can someone please throw in a Seinfeld quote now or Jay-Z or Family Guy or at least Simon and Garfunkel?

  5. "You could travel the world
    But nothing comes close
    To the Golden Coast
    Once you party with us
    You'll be falling in love
    Oooooh oh oooooh

    California girls
    We're unforgettable
    Daisy Dukes
    Bikinis on top
    Sun-kissed skin
    So hot
    We'll melt your Popsicle
    Oooooh oh oooooh"

  6. Hello Rachel...I have not yet read any of your blog and was looking for a more appropriate place to thank you for your visit, comments and invitation to submit something to your compilation...but I am about to run away for four days to the mountains, so beyond saying hello, I look forward to reading your work and getting to know you and I love the names of your blogs, that is all for now! Jeannette

  7. These blogs need a like button.

    Many have wondered over my years of writing an email (mostly) every week where on earth I find the time. But how can you not? These are the times and events I want to remember, how can I not take 10 min to jot them down? Always in the moment you think you'll remember everything, but that's not the way it works.

    Anyway, I'm babbling - but hey, what else is new?

  8. amazing. especially the last paragraph.


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