writing to survive
. . . only the retelling counts


Despite the new office space, most of my creative and/or obsessive thoughts occur on walks. I walked a lot of yesterday, usually by myself, my mind preoccupied, thank goodness, with new things. When I could muster up enough emotion on old topics – it’s harder these days, my pretties, my lovelies – I thought again about fictions layering over fibs, men who tell me they are at jobs that don’t exist, little white lies, lies of avoidance, self-protective distortions, boring, boring lies. Whatever. The story has already been told. It lives. Pay attention, girlfriend, and you’ll be fine. We all have a little bit of the liar in us. I’m notoriously cagey, misleading. My frown and frump, my loose-fitting pants and shapeless shirt, disguise lacey underthings, fishnetted gams, my calves, my ass, my breasts, caught and contained because they need it, I need it, to be contained, my body instructed, my mind told how to keep itself together. Or so I once believed. Perhaps you understand, sister?

I don’t need to toy with you. I’m sorry. If you are worried, there is no need to be. I was a speck of dust, an off mood that lasted too long, a nobody with a body who happened to have a way with words. When I was a kid, barely out of adolescence, shy and nervous and insecure, I would hum during lulls in conversation with my on-again/off-again, sometimes ostentatiously as though I was doing voices in a Warner Brothers cartoon or was
Curly of Three Stooges fame, so awkward I hoped it was cute. Filler, I called it, a little noise to break the silence. Filler. Later on, that became my role. Filler. I was a not particularly amusing amuse-bouche, though I am entertaining enough now. Right?

Known pleasures
I cannot fully describe the pleasure of color, the joy I took in hanging the quirky Mexican altar box behind the low chair. My desk is at an angle, the bookcases huddle together across the room, and the pear crate that has followed me from childhood, from drafty apartments in Wilmington to living spaces in Washington, DC and Champaign, Columbus and Berkeley, is beside me again as a side table. In childhood, it supported my glasses of chamomile iced tea; in adolescence, it was beer; last night, a mug of Pellegrino; this morning, coffee with chocolate hazelnut milk. The various pleasures this room provides – pleasure in color and shadow and art, sensual pleasure, private pleasure, the quiet joy of hard work fulfilled – are touch and absence, artery and vein, incandescence and moon glow, all occurring simultaneously, reverberating from me into the world, maybe even to you, wherever I may find you.

These are some of the things I knew without being told: the woman at the front desk had a brother in jail; my coworker was separating from her unfaithful husband; the on-again/off-again was sleeping with somebody else while I was still in the picture; the teacher was pregnant; the man still thought of me at times, with great intensity; the once-strangers had shacked up.

I didn’t know these things because I was psychic or because I was a snoop. I knew them because I paid attention to the details. I trusted my intuition.

I’m writing this at almost ten p.m. on Thursday evening, knowing it’s not postable, knowing I may switch it all around in the morning. It’s been a day of to-ing and fro-ing and worrying about the boy, the worrying massaged almost away by his first fencing class, which he loved despite the awkward newness of it. While my husband reloads the bookcases, I sit on our new Ikea chair, which is just big enough for two people getting all cozy-like or for one person with a cat on either side of her. The cats have already fought over the chair. The dog has been off her feed for a week and over the last few days has disappeared upstairs for hours at a time while the rest of us are downstairs, though at this moment (it’s morning now, not yet 9:00 a.m.), she sleeps in the office by my desk after my brief campaign of chicken, loving, and new toys. The boy still actively hates the office, the paint, the change, though at least today he did not try to rip anything off the wall or pull down the lamp. The next round of kid anger will be when the as yet unsewn new curtains go up. I’m bracing myself.

It’s been a good week, a hard week, a satisfying week. I’ve been social. I’ve been busy and productive. I’ve parented well. I’ve parented horribly. The boy’s intensity, his fealty to the feeling of the moment, reminds me of my own intensity as a child. It must have been so hard for my mother, the stress of no money, the struggle to finish college, the task of parenting a headstrong, defiant, melodramatic daughter. Funny how seeing some of my childhood qualities in the boy gives me more compassion for the mother of my past than for the childhood me. But after hearing a somewhat disturbing report from the boy’s teacher Thursday afternoon and talking with him about it on our walk from school to fencing, I felt so grateful to have the opportunity to parent this child, who is not simple, who grapples with emotions and change and self-control. Of course, I feel daunted, too, and aware of that strange interplay between feeling responsible for all the bad stuff and being flexible in how his father and I deal with the complications of parenthood. Getting caught up in my own head, becoming paralyzed by guilt and worry, does no good. Projecting the kid Jennifer, all will and hard stare and foot stomp (don’t give me that look was my mother’s refrain) onto the boy is doing him a disservice. Being a witness and an assistant in the boy’s upbringing and having the ability to be present is a privilege.


Polyptych: “an arrangement of four or more panels (as of a painting) usually hinged and folded together” (Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Rearranged 1/19 because the meal should
begin with the amuse-bouche, even if it doesn’t entice the palate.

Top image: Mexican altar box
Middle image: pear crate with coffee cup
Bottom image: the boy reading about snakes
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