This Summer

On writing her memoir, Abigail Thomas says, “instead of not-writing, I am painting.”

If you don’t count a thin Crayola watercolor paint brush from Zade’s art drawer, I haven’t picked up a real brush for many years. Andrea bought me my first adult painting set in October 2008.  Kal was in Dubai for a few months and I was open to focus on my own devices. The spirit of Halloween nearby, we sat on an old red tablecloth in my living room and painted side by side. I’m squinting hard to remember what I painted—probably a sunset or some trees, the usual beginner fantasies of painting—but I remember thinking, now that wasn’t so hard.

Thomas begins her account with this simple and equally truthful message: “Nothing is wasted when you are a writer. The stuff that doesn’t work has to be written to make way for the stuff that might; often you need to take the long way around.”

I’ve focused on writing this summer more than I’ve dreamed of for any summer, and when I wasn’t writing, I was “not-writing” while observing something else. Long drives back and forth from kids’ camps became quiet moments where I could uncover a crucial plot element or come up with an idea I’d toss later. Either way, it only mattered that while I was consistently busy this summer, I was also “not-writing” when I was.

I’ve become more and more comfortable with scrapping pages and pages of writing, so hard to pluck out at first but still purposeful in laying out the road. Two things have helped me the most: just writing. just committing.

On a great leap of faith, I enrolled in a UCLA extension course on short fiction writing, one of many I hope to take. To echo a girl I met this summer, I didn’t want all the balloons buoyant in my head to just release, one by one out into air.

On the first day of class, our professor asked both for creative writing and for some writing on what brought us to the class. I admitted the ultimate catalyst for enrolling: Taking this class is a grand leap of faith on myself. In fact, I almost didn’t take this symbolic course.

I put the money aside and was debating if I should do stuff for the house instead, another source of joy, or saving it in what Betty Smith names the moneybox nailed down in the closet.  One day on the way to get my hair colored, I got pulled over for speeding. I was polite and knew I was wrong for speeding, so I apologized to the officer and took my ticket with dignity. I knew then that I wouldn’t be able to take the course after all and took it as a sign. I held it together and accepted it like an adult.

Two weeks later, I sat in the same car and called up to pay for the ticket, and clerk said I owed $39.00. Shocked, I confirmed what she said, $39.00. I almost sang out my card numbers to the automated service. I was expecting to pay over 200 dollars at least, but there I sat with my phone and credit card in my hands,  waiting in the parking lot for the other shoe to drop. It didn’t.

So I went home, created my account, and signed up for the class.

I had a deadline for class during Andrea’s latest visit here. After Kal and the kids went to bed, both of us sat at my long dining room table with only the glow of the soft light above us. Two cups of coffee sitting next to us in mismatched mugs and our laptops open, we wrote quietly alongside each other for hours. The best part of this experience was not just the energy. It was the catalyst for the moment—although this time I was the one to orchestrate it.

Two weeks ago, I had two rose gold necklaces made for us, each one stamped with the first letter of each of our most important characters. Big Magic inspired me to commit to characters, the way one would while married or the way one would while having an affair, sneaking off no matter what is at stake to be together. Over oysters and pomegranate drinks, we held hands and took a vow to stay true to our stories.

 

 

We opened the boxes together and slipped our necklaces on. From that moment, we steadily walked away from life updates and strolled right into our stories. The rest of the visit, when Andrea wasn’t playing Barbies and Jenga, or watching Rio and Wild Kratts with her niece and nephew, in the moments when we had some quiet, we filled ourselves up with the explorative, something consistent between us but noticeably rare, a joy that only comes with someone who stares out the window like you do.

Amidst long summer days, learning about our new home, going to a Georgian safari, myriad trips to Brusters, laughing with visitors, long pool days, running around a track, bike riding, camps from rock climbing to gymnastics, Layla’s first playdate at Six Flags, Zade’s mischief-charm, text-designing with friends, slower mornings, really late nights, reading and listening to books, cooking warm meals, eating tacos at the table, crazy sibling rivalry, sweet sibling synergy, running in the early morning, getting splashed by the sprinkler, visiting with neighbors, Spiderman and Barbie adventures, workshop training, daytime appointments, kids sprawled upside down on the couch, watching cartoon matinees, and melting in high summer Georgia heat, I stayed dedicated to not letting the thick-head talk that comes in the way with allowing yourself to create.

Next week our lives change up again to the rhythms of fall semester. Lots of this summer in which we’ve nestled will change to a pitched energy. I’m aware of it, but it is still 6 days away. We still have a few more memories to make in this narrowing expanse; therefore, I’ll just write it out to carry its hopeful weight: summer is not over just yet. 

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Independence

Last night we set up camping chairs on the front lawn and listened to fireworks go off all over the area. A few times, we saw some colorful crackles above the dark trees ahead. With all the trees around us, the sky never looks just black; it’s charcoal with strong, bright stars. If these stars could strut, they would do so nobly like the stroll of a pedigree in a horse show.  Seeing real fireworks had nothing on the soft breeze and the noble stars last night.

The four of us took snacks outside and sat in blue chairs on the lawn. The kids lit up sparklers with more and more confidence until they were each swirling in circles and making rings with the fire sparks. I joined them with some and whirled around; we looked like a team of amateur driveway dervishes. Afterward, Kal lit up some fireworks at our house, and both the kids and I held our breath until the last starburst. When they were done, I asked the trees, “you guys doing okay?” I wonder if they brace themselves or roll their eyes when the time comes for fireworks. It was weird to be on the side of the “crazy people that light their own fireworks;” I’ve thought that before, but here I was, reluctant yet willing to watch, kind of just wanting not to say no to Kal. He should be able to experience this season in this new space his own way, too.

When our shows were over, the kids and I blew out the giant citronella candle that we used in lieu of a campfire, and we made our way back to the house.

Maybe it was running in the heat that morning or cooking a big lunch, or maybe it was our lazy trip to Brusters or the adventurous grocery shopping we did, but by the time this joyous moment happened, I passively slid into it. I didn’t waste my energy on the reel of scary I can often do, for example, on any given Sunday night before school when I picture all the bad things that could happen. Instead, I just enjoyed and didn’t think about it until right now.

But this isn’t always the case. You know how you feel something is so right and hope so much that you don’t mess it up? That the wave you’re riding on may turn into a tide against you? My good friend reminded me of Brene Brown’s words when I shared with her I was afraid of the other shoe dropping: joy is terrifying. To let go of the refuge in safe decisions that I might make for our family is to risk that I may upset a rhythm we’ve created that brings us peace. Yes, I’ll push against complacency, but it doesn’t mean I’m not scared doing it.

I struggle with this especially as I feel more confident and more adventurous than ever.  But honestly the time when I’m the most fearful is the time when things are doing just fine. In fact, if you’ve read previous posts, you know how much moving into this new home has meant to me. I’ve seen close friends experience this high and then get kicked unexpectedly. I’m an optimistic person who has seen this happen so often to my friends and just notice it as a pattern.

My reconciliation has been that I just have to ride the wave and hope that I can handle what comes up next, knowing that hardship presents its own gifts. Brene Brown says, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.” We try to dress rehearse tragedy, she says. And boy do I know this feeling well. The antidote is to practice gratitude, she proposes.  I feel I do this well enough in my way with friends, my projects at school, my love for people, my efforts with my family.

All of these actions try to bring joy, which in turn usually make me feel so grateful. But the small difference is that I have not been thinking of gratitude as a defense for the terrifying, especially in regards to my family bubble. Teachers and writers are always in tune, so it’s not for lack of not seeing, but on a personal level, I want to take it a step further and make even more of an active effort to lean on gratitude rather than to lean on fear.
Today, I am grateful for that breeze on my hair as I turned around to see Layla try to record her dad run away from the fireworks, Zade passing up the stars for a stolen game on his dad’s phone, the communal popping sounds from east to west of us, and plates of staled crackers sitting on the grass by our feet.

4th of July

I wish us all two things today: the type of joy that is born with sheer gratitude, and that passive, lazy calm that captures inconsequential beauty.