Recycling Bin Split-Second Symphony

When I dropped the recycling into the bin downstairs the bottles made the sound of the opening drums of “Just like Heaven. So I came upstairs and put on The Cure and that to me is so senior spring from High School, fresh cut grass, our parents' cars, slipping out during study hall to Philip's Coffee even though we didn't drink coffee, blasting The Cure out the car windows, so many promises at the end of high school, in love on Fridays, alone above the raging sea.

That's what made me come here to write, a recycling bin split-second symphony, the only way back into the fantasy world of my blog, a one-time-record of the interrupted life, madly, wildly interrupted in a different way from when I started writing it. Now I am entrenched more seriously in my freelance work, preparing to start grad school in two weeks with a James Joyce summer course, wading through the River Liffey, slipping into Viconian cycles. I have gotten away from writing and reading and thinking about parenting. It’s a topic that I realized sometimes drains me. It means that when you’re not actively taking care of your kids, you are reading about how to do a better job at taking care of your kids. It’s like you’re constantly putting out for others, with nothing filling you back up.

Just over a month ago I put Petra in three day a week daycare, which makes getting into this other stuff somewhat possible if still a bit implausible. I have even been able to wake up before the kids some days and turn to Dublin mid June 1904 with a text that cannot be rushed, cannot be skimmed, summarized, shrunk or scanned in any way. There is no way to condense it, no reward for an attempt to read through and “get the gist of” the single unremarkable day in an unremarkable man’s life that takes up nearly 900 pages in the Modern Library edition my parents sent me. There is only one way to read it and possibly enjoy it: line by inscrutable line.  

The garden too—so much to update, I’m sorry I didn’t record the events of it here because a little garden patch in the city has fulfilled some deep-seated Last American Childhood-like desire held since I first wished here for a patch of dirt and shovel for Wally—has proven unyielding to efforts to hurry it along.

Poetry, all writing, is the same. You have to give it time. Nothing meaningful will come from it otherwise.

Today, returned to the apartment after dropping off both kids to the smell of coffee and fresh cut grass. I am reading Alicia Ostriker who was born in 1937 in Brooklyn the birds are chirping and I think I could spend all day slipping into her dream of springtime.

There are many mornings like this, where I rush in with a surge of energy, newly light, sun poring in and the voices in my head not drowned out by any other demands at least for the walk home. It feels like the hint of another time, another life, where a morning could be spent indulging in whatever that smell of fresh-cut grass and coffee conjures up…a café, a journal open on the table, years before I ever drank coffee. Now I run to pull out a book of Billy Collin poems as I find myself:

"buzzing around the house on espresso— 
maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,

dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,"

But then eventually I go to the computer to confront the daily massive reality of real life in all its bite-size minutiae. Within an instant I’m sunk. Sunk into PTA staff appreciation day, whether Alex can leave work early Thursday to get Wally, health forms I need to send, photos for an ID I need to upload, a rental car I need to reserve, birthday presents I have to buy, a glance at “Fan of Whitney Houston buys her ‘80s mansion” which had “long been vacant”. And then there is the guy who randomly called EvalPros (one of the many names my dad and I have used for our nonprofit consulting work). He is a disabled vet involved in a court case. It has been bobbing around on my to do list, to call him back, but what can we do? That’s not what we do? How can we help him?

But that’s not even accurate, to suggest I am only lost by going into that outer world, because the inner is equally labyrinthine, more so. For example today, four hours after waking up, three train rides and many, many stairs, (both “schools” are at the top of steep flights of them) many head nods and little bits of small talk on the walk back home, wondering about “Tanya” the name on coffee cup in the garbage can on 26th street, whooshing home full of energy, songs or poetry, even a chance rhythm of glass bottles falling into the recycling bin, the voices harmonious, and telling myself I can have just a half hour to write. Okay, here I am, reminding myself of Natalie Goldberg. At my desk, keeping the internet closed, just taking in the smell of fresh cut grass and coffee.

First I think of Edie, a young woman who worked at Wally’s school last year who was suddenly not there for months. In her absence I neglected even to ask about her only half noticing if at all that day after day she wasn’t there. She was not in his classroom, just one of many kind people who worked there. She always said hi and often swooped Wally up in her arms when she saw him. When I did see her again after months of not realizing I hadn’t seen her, she said she’d been in a horrible car crash and almost died now she could not smell or taste. By that time I guess the brush with death had receded far enough into the past that this relatively minor concern had risen to the surface; that was what she focused on. That is what I think first today, when I do even allow myself the luxury of the blank page. Edie, whom I hardly know, with shining black eyes and I think a niece Wally’s age, who cannot smell coffee or freshly cut grass. She is not usually on my mind. But recently someone mentioned Gray Gardens. There is an Edie there, I think the daughter?

Now the sound of the lawnmower outside …which barely registers above the din of the city…din, a word hanging on the wall in Mr. McInerney’s 5th grade class. The lawnmower drove me nuts that sound when I lived in Drummer Farms and otherwise all was quiet on a summer morning. After school was over it seemed to me early and reasonable to get up at 9 and I resented being woken any earlier by that horrible sound.

I want to stay in that spell of "Just Like Heaven", thinking about spring mornings 20 years ago. It's I guess obvious why. I’m setting off once again for immersion in academia, or at least as much immersion as is possible with the school supply list already for next year, the demanding neighbors, the laundry scattered on the floor. I’m not going anywhere, except into my own magic treehouse full to overflowing with books to jump into, no car to blast music out of, but about to disconnect from one world and rush headlong into another.

It was cutting edge for Dartmouth in the fall of 1994, twenty years ago, to require all incoming freshmen to purchase a computer. Here I sit at mine, critical of all the virtual connection it has to offer, yet continuing to find something of value in it, engaged now in a practical search of the most mundane kind, not to read the dour (someone called him that, perfect) but insightful Stuart Gilbert’s thoughts on cosmology and the esoteric in the Proteus episode of Ulysses, but for dinner tonight. I am pleased to see someone in Irvine, California once had the same question as me: Can you peel and cut potatoes and get them ready ahead of time?


  1. Life—routine, profound, past, present, future—all happening all at once in a recycling bin split-second symphony

  2. Your writing sounds a bit like Virginia Woolf here...sensory impressions intermingled with thoughts. I wonder if Edie's sense of smell/taste will come back...

  3. I wonder about Edie too...if that will return...Woolf (I've heard) hated Joyce yet there are so many similarities. Wonder if that is what is seeping in...From Woolf "Modern Fiction"

    "Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind
    receives a myriad impressions-trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or
    engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an
    incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they
    shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday..."

    Hawkeye - exactly.

  4. Love the post and comments

  5. Rachel, I typed out a long reply to this blog, which the internet swallowed. So, in short, just wanted to let you know I enjoyed it and share many of the same feelings. Except a desire to wallow in Joyce.

  6. Oh no! I can't believe the internet swallowed it and I'll never get to know what you said in response or how you feel about some of this stuff. If you ever get the urge to write it again, I'll be here.

  7. Your writing sounds a bit like Virginia Woolf here...sensory impressions intermingled with thoughts. I wonder if Edie's sense of smell/taste will come back...

    2015 Quotes for new year

  8. Thanks for your thoughts...hopefully we'll be able to visit Edie soon.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts