Friday, 24 September 2010

And we laughed and laughed

The other night at school pick-up, a knot of mothers were idly chatting when I threw the conversational grenade of Eat Pray Love in the mix. Strangely enough, (at least to me), I was the only woman in the group who had read this culture-dominating memoir. But as I explained the concept – a kind of self-seeking journey, not to mention sabbatical from one’s established life – all of the women started chatting excitedly. One woman, in particular, recounted a solo trip from the previous year when she was “no one’s mother, wife, daughter or employee.” She then reeled off a list of qualities that seemed to surface when she was liberated from her usual roles and responsibilities. “I was WITTY,” she emphasized – all dramatic big eyes and self-deprecating laugh.

It stuck in my mind, maybe because the one overriding memory from my Blog-camping weekend in Berlin is the laughter, the constant laughter. It was the kind of bodily laughter that inhibits speech and makes your sides ache. I don’t know if a lot of wit was involved, at least on my part, but certainly I was silly, irreverent and raunchy – qualities that don’t get a lot of play in my “normal” life.

Is laughter what happens when you take six intelligent women and liberate them from the responsibility of feeding people three times a day? Was it glorious alchemy, or just the heady oxygen of having more space to breathe freely? I’d like to think it was more than the shot of ouzo that Julochka coerced me into imbibing after I had already, ahem, had enough. “What are you going to remember?” is her motto.

As autumn descends like one great gray wet blanket, I’ve been musing on why there is too little laughter in my daily routine. What is there about normal life that smothers it?

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

September apples

There must be an explanation
scientific, or otherwise,
for why the apple tree
gnarled and bent and elderly
brings forth an edible harvest
every other year only,
and sometimes one in three.

Do some living things
keep their own schedule
for resting and renewal?
Or does the fruit depend
on some other equation:
like January frost
plus April showers
when June is hot and dry.

Last year's apples weren't worth picking
but this fall there's a bumper crop.
Every branch is weighed down so
even when the birds claim their share
there is more than enough fruit
to fill every jar I own
with sweet September applesauce.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Normal Time

At the beginning of the summer, I read Michael Chabon's Manhood for Amateurs -- or rather, I gulped it down.  Chabon's meditations on parenthood elicited many moments of delighted recognition, but none more so than his description of Normal Time.  Normal Time, as Chabon defines it, is the yearning for "time to spare, of time in plenty." 

 Time not just for work and reflection and unhurried lovemaking but for all kinds of fine and tiny things.

One of the things that Chabon is going to do in the coming of Normal Time is "print out the digital photos and reorganize the albums."  (I couldn't help wonder how many people have that resolution.)  Certainly I have been resolving and planning to organize my photographs since 1999 -- which is the last time I recall making a big push in that area.  Okay, yes, I've done the occasional album -- but still, there are stacks of photographs everywhere, and I need to do a serious cull of the digital files.

All summer long, when solitary moments have been as scarce as hen's teeth, I've thought longingly of that time when the children would return to school and routine would be re-established and there would Normal Time aplenty.  In August, I even got the photo albums out and started making ambitious plans for various collages:  of favorite holidays, of all the Christmas cards, of the girls when they were babies.  Oh yes, I had big, grand, retrospective plans.

On Sunday, we took our oldest daughter to boarding school; early Monday morning, my youngest daughter left for a week-long field trip and my husband went away on a business trip.  All of a sudden, after frantic weeks of preparing for these events, I was completely my own -- with loads of free, uncommitted time.  And here's the rub:  I've realized that there is a problem with Normal Time.  Time, with no children in it, just isn't normal to me.  For 16 years, my life has been dominated by mothering and that's the groove that I'm used to.  In fact, it's been approximately 16 years since I last remember feeling so uncomfortable with my own company.  Then, I was in a brand-new country (England) with a brand-new baby, and after two weeks of a full house, my family left and my husband went on a business trip . . . and rather suddenly, I was alone with a newborn.  I felt lonely and bewildered and distinctly uncomfortable with the new-mother routine.  No week was as bad as that first week, but it still took a while to reset the clock of my days.

I can only trust that I will get used to this new version of Normal Time -- and figure out something constructive to do with it.  This week I've been rather spendthrift:  I finally cleaned the utility room, but I also watched the entire third season of Mad Men.  I ironed a stack of shirts and sheets, I read The Group, I sent off some overdue packages and letters . . . but I definitely fell short on reflective activities, and I didn't even crack open those photo albums.  Maybe next week.

 Steering a new course
The last day of summer:  punting in Oxford