Houseful

The house is full of teenagers — Zeke’s friend, and their two boyfriends, and two gay friends — and they’re boiling eggs for Easter, and the TV is going, and the iPod is plugged into the speakers, and even though I’m up here in my bedroom with the door closed, I can hear the music and the movie voices, and the clink of spoons, and I can smell spaghetti cooking, and I’m trying to write, but I can’t. It occurs to me that I probably seem a bit flaky, switching from one thing to another, abandoning projects and picking them up again here and there. I haven’t abandoned my book on Esperanca, but I’ve run into a snag with it. She wants her name on it, her real name, and her real name is so unusual (and beautiful too) that it is distinctive. If I make the typo-free book available, I will expose her. So I’m trying to decide what to do with it.

Time for a confession: Nada fell asleep last week, while I read him a bit from my book about my mother and the heron.  And I stopped writing for several days. My mother always criticized my writing, and now any hint that what I’m working on is not good enough freezes me. How I finished my thesis (a creative one) is beyond me.

But I couldn’t stop writing it. I think it’s a way for me to make sense of what happened, of my role in it, and a way to find my way back to peace with my sisters. So I keep working on it, but when he calls and asks me what I’m doing, I lie. I tell him I’m reading, or just got back from walking the dogs, or doing laundry, because after he fell asleep all I could think about was that my ex-husband wouldn’t read the book my mother and I wrote about our breast cancer experience, and that my life has always been full of people who haven’t really liked anything I’ve ever written. It feels whiny to write what I’m writing, but I’ve sworn I’m going to stop censoring myself. I’ve been censoring myself for too long.

I’m in that strange transitional mood that happens when the quarter ends. It’s been a great quarter, with fun classes, but I’m a bit bummed out because I submitted grades that I know some students aren’t going to be happy with. But they have to learn somewhere, somehow, to read the assignment, to listen to me when I tell them that if they don’t include copies of their sources with their papers they’ll fail the paper — period. They have to learn to read and respond to their emails BEFORE the grades are in. One student didn’t send in her online quiz, and I emailed her twice about it, and then she emailed me after the grades were in and wrote, “If you didn’t get my quiz yet, please call me ASAP at 555-5555 and I’ll send it to you.” TOO LATE!!! Four minutes past the deadline for me to submit my grades. What was she thinking? And I like her. But I can’t — and won’t — change the grade for her even if she does have the quiz and does submit it. There’s some kind of insane epidemic of students who are fun and interesting and just nice to be around, but they don’t pay attention and don’t do the work and then they act hurt when their final grade isn’t what they expect. I’ve been warning them all quarter, but I think they’ve been trained in a high school system that warns them they’ll fail, and then passes them anyway. So that’s what they expect.

I read last night, for Holy Thursday. I wasn’t as nervous as I expected. I went for a walk beforehand, in the Canyon, one of my favorite places, and I felt the fierce, wild spirit of the rocks rising into the air around me. And it was something like the night before Anne Frank opened, when I saw Kuan Yin laughing in front of me, and knew it would be OK. I’m more used to it all now, and the Spanish reader was a former student of mine, so we had fun in the sacristy beforehand, catching up on news, and when it was time to process in, I was calm. It was moving, to be reminded of a year ago, when I was in the front row, getting my feet washed by the Bishop, and I remembered Nada in India, getting his feet washed by his friend, and there’s something about that story, about my memory of him telling me about it, that touches me every time. Afterwards, we processed out with the host to the chapel, and I walked right behind the Bishop as the choir sang hauntingly before us. In that moment the music and the clear sound of the bells brought back memories of China, of that dawn chanting and drumming that so captivated me, and I knew why I could have at home a shelf on which Kuan Yin sits beside St. Teresa, and the temple guardians watch over both of them.

I’m rambling. There’s nothing organized or meaningful about what I’ve written here, except perhaps as a way to capture a moment. I’ve jumped from idea to idea, and not edited or changed anything, though I guess I’ll proofread at least.

One of the lads downstairs has an astonishingly loud laugh, and it bursts out regularly, rising above the general cacaphony of music and food being prepared and kids talking. I’m tired but I probably couldn’t sleep, with all the excitement downstairs. Tomorrow I’m going to visit my dad for Easter, will get to see my little nephew again. Then it’s the break, for a week, and I’ll clean up my office and prepare for next quarter, and find a moment to do some yard work in the little garden. And then it’s spring quarter, and the days are long enough for evening walks, and the cold is gone so I can go outside without my chest constricting, and another year is drawing to a close. (I measure the year based on the academic calendar more than I do the Christian one!)

Three things: Long days; Zeke’s friends; the growing ability to recognize a mood as simply a passing moment, like ripples on the water, and therefore, for the moment, a resulting peace.

2 responses to “Houseful

  1. Well, but wait. did Nada fall asleep because it was boring? Martha falls asleep to everything I read aloud, including Tolstoy and Dickens. Reading aloud is soporific, regardless of quality.

    Your writing is terrific. Which means that maybe one person in fifty will really like it. That’s just how idiosyncratic literary taste is. First of all, the person has to like books. Then they have to like books of your genre. Then they have to like your writing voice. Then they have to like what you’re saying. Then they have to be at just the right phase of their life for what you’re saying to be just new enough but not too new. Our audiences will always be a tiny proportion of people, and even a tiny proportion of those we know and love. That’s just how it works. (Well, until you’re a classic and people are too ashamed to admit they don’t like your stuff, but usually you’re dead before you get that dubious payoff :->)

  2. You always say the best things, Dale! Thanks so much for this lovely comment. Nada was tired, I guess. He’d been up working late on a paper the night before, and he was lying on the bed listening to me, and he just fell asleep. (Which is a talent of his anyway, falling asleep wherever he happens to be, if he’s tired.) And I guess it’s true that I’ve read him from his favorite philosophy or sacred texts and he’ll fall asleep if he’s tired enough. So maybe that was it.

    It’s a problem with me, I think. I almost didn’t write about how his falling asleep affected me, because I knew it would sound whiny, but I just don’t want to censor myself. Anyway, I’m back to working on the book, but I just don’t tell him (or anyone except the readers of this blog!)

    Thanks again for your wonderful words, and I’m so glad your house situation is stable for the next year anyway. 🙂

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