Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
I was born to parents who were known to strike up a conversation with just about anyone. In my family a typical exchange with the grocery store clerk might have gone something like this:
“I haven’t seen you here before. Are you new to town?”
“Yeah, I’m from Helena.”
“Oh, you’re from Helena? Well my cousin’s uncle is from a little town just outside of Helena, his name is Jimmy Jackson and his daughter is probably close to your age. Her name is Mindy.”
“Oh, I went to school with Mindy Jackson. She dated my older brother for a little while but they broke up when my brother joined the service.”
“Oh your brother’s in the military! Where’s he stationed?”
“Oh, my neighbor’s son and his wife are at the base in Germany right now. As a matter of fact, my neighbors are going to go there next month for a visit.”
This was how I was raised—and still I find it hard to refrain from asking questions when I meet someone new. “Where are you from?” And their answer—no matter where they’re from—typically causes my brain to do the mental equivalent of spinning through a Rolodex looking for some way to make a connection—even when it seems fairly absurd. “Oh you’re from Hong Kong? My husband’s cousin once visited Hong Kong. Kolkata? My daughter’s boyfriend’s dad lived there for a while and I’ve always wanted to visit.”
In Anchorage on Thursday evening I was wheeling my small suitcase down a sidewalk toward two taxicabs parked in front of the Hilton Hotel. The drivers, both men with olive skin and thick dark hair, were engaged in an animated conversation with each other and neither seemed to notice me. When I got so close that they could no longer ignore me, the one driver who looked to be a few years older than the other nudged the younger one my direction, giving up his chance for some business. Then they embraced. When the younger man turned around his eyes were watery.
“I have not seen him in ten years. The last time was in Albania,” he said as he was loading my bag into the trunk of the car. “I did not recognize him, but he recognized me.”
There was my opening to chat. I asked him what it’s like in Albania. “Beautiful,” he said. “We lived very near the beach. But there I worked eighty hours a week and even with that many hours I could not make the rent.”
I asked him more questions and he proceeded to tell me that he’d only been driving a cab for two days and he was still learning his way around Anchorage–but he was happy to have a third job. Before he landed the cab-driving job he worked at two different restaurants. “I was working fifty hours a week, and this job will add twenty more and it is above minimum wage.” He was responsible for paying the rent on a two bedroom apartment he shared with his mother and he was sending money back to Albania in hopes of bringing his brother and sister, still in their teens, to the US.
I asked him if he’d had the chance to get out of Anchorage yet. “Oh no,” he said. “Maybe in the summer I will take a day and drive down the Turnagain Highway.”
He was quiet for a few blocks and it crossed my mind that he might be making this story up about working three jobs and sending money to his siblings in Albania. It would be a good story for a cab driver to tell in order to get a bigger tip.
But then we drove past the bowling alley on the corner of Minnesota and Spenard and the young man shook his head and looked directly at me through the rear-view mirror. His dark lashes were damp again. “How is it possible that I found an old friend on the streets of Anchorage?”
For the whole ride I’d been asking him questions and he’d been answering, telling me about his life since leaving Albania, his time in Chicago, his learning to drive on icy roads. He told me about his family spread around various European countries and the United States, about his trying to make ends meet. All across town I was doing my part to connect with my Albanian cabdriver, but between the street in front of the Anchorage Hilton and the intersection of Spenard and Minnesota he’d been to Albania and back again.
It’s a long way to travel in such a short time.
I wish I had a picture of Sadie. But even if I had a photo to go from I don’t think I’d be able to properly describe her. I remember a weatherworn face and a missing tooth. I remember her layers of clothes, faded and worn to a color similar to that of her skin. I remember the way her odor—distinct and offensive, but impossible to describe—lingered for a long time after she’d come inside to borrow our phone. And I remember her adamant warning that came every year in March:
“Beware the spring equinoxal,” she’d say.
Right now in Homer we’re gaining around five minutes of daylight a day. We’re looking at seed catalogs and planning our summer camping trips. The dirty snow berms on the side of the road are receding and the sun is high enough on the horizon to throw a little heat. Tasks that seemed overwhelming just a couple of months ago seem possible now.
And yet, suicide rates go up this time of year. The police blotter gets interesting and mental healthcare facilities fill to capacity. Couples who’ve held on through the winter give up and go their separate ways. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s true. This is a tricky time of year for lots of people.
When it comes to the spring equinox, Sadie was on to something.
I’ve been thinking about Sadie lately, wondering about her life, of which I knew very little. I was a teenager when Sadie used to make her way from the little shack across the alley to our house. But honestly, I never gave her much thought. To me she was just an eccentric, dirty old woman, poor and living in a decrepit cabin. I knew she had a husband over there, a man called Monty, but I never really got a good look at him. They just existed there, on the edge of town. When I think about it, I’m not sure how.
I asked my mom about the old couple that used to live behind us, and she told me what she knew about Sadie and Monty Holbrook.
Monty kept to himself and Sadie came around to “borry” our phone now and then. She didn’t really offer much information about herself though, until one afternoon when my brother-in-law brought a horse he’d just acquired over to our place. In the driveway he tried repeatedly to get up on the horse, but every time he tried the horse would lie down. Sadie watched all of this from across the alley, then came over and asked if she could “have a turn at that horse.” She grabbed the reins, got the horse up on its feet and in a matter of moments had the horse “doing right.”
Sadie then told my mom that she’d grown up on a horse, had in fact ridden one from Canada to Mexico with an infant in front of her and a two-year-old behind her. “No horse would dared lay down or buck with me,” she said.
After the horse incident, Sadie talked more. She said she and Monty caught and broke wild Spanish mustangs for a living and trailed them to North Dakota. She also told my mom that Monty, who was ninety years old at the time, used to run with Butch Cassidy and The Wild Bunch. At one point a movie producer found him and wanted to interview him, but Monty chased him off with a gun and told him to “Git.” He was afraid that if people knew who he was he’d be arrested and hung.
One Easter Sunday morning, after I’d already moved out of the house, my mom and step-dad saw smoke billowing out of Sadie and Monty’s cabin and called the fire department. It was late in March. Medics came and took the two of them to the hospital. There they were treated for mild smoke inhalation, but other than that were found to be in good health. Monty put up quite a fight though, when the hospital staff tried to get him to bathe. He was of the belief that bathing too early in the year made one susceptible to pneumonia.
After their house fire, Sadie and Monty never returned to their home. They went to a nursing home in Fruita, Colorado to live near their daughter. My mom heard that Sadie was happy there—it must have been a huge step up in terms of ease of living—but Monty didn’t like it much. He died within the year.
* * *
Sometimes we wouldn’t see Sadie for several days, but then something would change and she’d come over several times a week. During the times when she’d visit frequently, she’d watch for us to come home. We couldn’t see her peering over, but moments after we pulled into our driveway we’d see her hunched figure making its way across the dusty alley and up the stairs to our back door.
I wish I had a picture of her now to remember her face, but more than a picture I wish I had a week of afternoons with Sadie. I’d ask her what it was like to break wild Spanish mustangs. I’d ask her what it was like to be married to an outlaw. And I’d ask her to tell me exactly why she was so wary of the spring equinox.
I’m guessing she had more stories to tell.
Wild, Wild Horses
Just twenty years before my Grandma Ross was born, the average life expectancy for a woman in the United States was 45 years. Coming across this bit of trivia this morning—this day of my forty-fifth birthday—makes complaining about getting older seem ridiculous and downright ungrateful.
Statistically speaking, there’s a good chance that I’ll have at least another thirty-five years or so on this amazing planet, and that’s something that women in their forties couldn’t say in 1879. Seriously, I could spend this birthday pining for the days when my hair was more brown than gray, or for a time when I could fit into size seven jeans, but I’m thinking that since this is the beginning of those extra years that modern life has potentially granted me, I ought not to squander this day on pining. Instead I’ll make a list of positive things about turning forty-five:
- My hair started turning gray about ten years ago and I’ve spent a lot of the past decade self-consciously feeling older than I am. But now that I’m in my mid-forties, a few of my same-age friends are beginning to sprout a few gray hairs of their own, and while I wish I didn’t care about such trivial things, there is something nice about no longer being alone in this particular category.
- I will never make it into one of those 45-Brilliant-Writers-Under-45 anthologies, so that’s one less thing I need to worry about.
- When I was thirty-five and my hair was turning gray and my children were ten and seven years old, I sometimes questioned my decision to have children before establishing a career or traveling the world. Now that I’m 45 and my children are nearly grown, I can see the advantages of having had kids early in life. If I am indeed granted an extra thirty-five years or so, then I’ll get to enjoy my children as adults for a much longer time than if I had waited to have them. And after I get done paying off the debt I’ve accrued in raising them, I may still have time to travel the world.
- My life so far has been divided into lots of parts, but the most defining of them have been 1) my own childhood and 2) the raising of my children. Right now I’m on the cusp of the Next Big Part and it’s exciting to consider the possibilities.
- At forty-five I’ve already done so many of the things I’d hoped to do when I was just starting out. Now I have this distinct feeling that the future is less about serving my own needs and more about finding a way to be of service to others, it’s humbling and hopeful all at the same time.
- And on a lighter note, hitting the quintessential birthday that marks the potential halfway point of life left me feeling completely justified in buying myself a new pair of gorgeous leather boots, and in that way turning forty-five hasn’t been all that different from turning twenty.
What fools call “wasting time” is most often the best investment. – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
This week I’ll be facilitating my first Creative Writers’ Roundtable discussion at the Kachemak Bay Campus. The topic for the first of the three-week series will be on developing a writing practice. It’s a funny subject, developing a writing practice, because what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another. And a routine that works beautifully for a certain period of time doesn’t always continue to work as life circumstances change or as the writing itself evolves.
When I first decided to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing I imagined that I’d make a peaceful corner in my house that would be solely devoted to my writing. I thought I’d carve out a very specific schedule for myself: two hours before work every Tuesday morning, three hours on Thursdays, another big chunk of time on Saturday afternoons… you get the picture. But the reality of my writing practice is something much more chaotic than this. The truth is that I don’t have a quiet corner in my small house. Oftentimes family obligations get in the way of the time I’ve set aside for my writing. How is it, then, that I continue to get things done? How do I meet my deadlines? This is the stuff I hope to talk about at the Creative Writers’ Roundtable.
* * *
I’m lucky enough to live with a man who, in an effort to keep our family eating nutritious meals in the midst of a busy workweek, has taken it upon himself to make a big pot of soup or stew every Sunday afternoon. It’s usually a long, slow affair. He spends a good amount of time looking through recipes, making a grocery list, shopping, soaking, chopping, sautéing, simmering. And then there’s the clean up.
Some might say that Dean’s Sunday soup productions are a waste of time, and it’s true that if time were the only consideration we’d be better off buying a case of Campbell’s Soup at Safeway. But with the extra attention Dean gives to the food he prepares, we get so much more than canned soup. We have more time in our week because we don’t have to scramble through the kitchen on weekday mornings to make ourselves lunch before we leave the house. We don’t have to drive across town during our mid-day breaks in hopes of finding something satisfying to eat. And ultimately we have delicious, sustaining food that gets more flavorful as the week progresses.
* * *
Writing is more than time spent in front of a computer or a notebook. Like the making of a slow soup, writing requires assembling the right ingredients, processing, organizing, simmering, filtering and cleaning up. Some of those things can be done even when I’m not in front of my computer. In fact, many of my problems in regards to a story or a plotline are solved when I’m doing the dishes or going for a walk. Important revelations have come to me when I’ve been playing my banjo or been in the middle of a yoga session. And so for me developing a writing practice is about practicing to be a writer—all the time. It’s about never turning it off. This is not to say that every moment of my time is organized, in fact it’s just the opposite. My best writing is done when I’ve had a fair amount of time to dawdle. If I don’t take the time to stir my ideas around and let them settle, my writing sounds canned, like it was pulled from a shelf. It’s a little too bland or salty. It lacks originality and flavor.
So I guess part of developing a writing practice, at least for me, is learning to embrace the slowness of the process, the thoughtful moments that can’t necessarily be accounted for. Part of it is letting go of the false belief that productive writing can be measured with something as simple as a word count.
**If you’re in Homer, and you’d like to take part in the Creative Writing Roundtable series, I’d love to have you join in Tuesday evenings at 6:00pm on February 19, 26 and March 5th at the college. It’s free and open to all. No sign up is necessary.
“I mean I truly believe there exists some combination of words—there must exist certain words in a specific order that would explain all of this…” – Walter White, from Breaking Bad
Here’s my confession: I have an MFA packet due on Tuesday and I’m not even close to having it done. This packet is to include one new short story, one revised short story, four pages of transcription, three reader’s response papers and forty pages of freewriting. So one would think that the logical thing to do would be to set aside this blog for a while and get to work on the required writing, but doing things in their logical order isn’t necessarily my strong suit, and so here I am, composing a blog post in hopes that by getting this out of the way I’ll be able to focus on the tasks I need to complete by Tuesday.
I’m not going to tell you what parts of my packet I have done and what parts need to happen between now and January 15th, all I will say is that I need to put on my superhero cape or my bionic woman costume and get on with it because I’ve waited for the damn stuff to write itself and clearly that has not been my best tactic.
You see, I’ve had a hard time writing fiction lately and I’m not entirely sure why. I’d rather write poetry or essays or memoirs or songs. I’d rather write letters to friends or make lists. Right now nothing sounds more daunting than sitting down in front of blank page on my computer screen and creating a story out of thin air about people who aren’t real.
When I was accepted to the MFA program two years ago I had to pick a genre for my course of study. I could have gone in any direction: poetry, fiction or nonfiction. At the time I had this grandiose idea that I should choose the genre that I’d find most challenging and so I chose fiction. That didn’t seem to be so much of a problem last year, but this year something has changed. This year I have a bad case of fiction fatigue.
I’ve been trying to figure out what is causing this little fiction problem I seem to be having. I think it has to do with the gap that lies between being able to recognize good fiction and being able to write it myself. I’ve experienced similar gaps with fiddle playing. Sometimes I can recognize when something I’m playing doesn’t sound right, but I don’t yet know what I need to do to fix the problem. Then there is another gap that comes when I know how to fix the problem but I don’t yet have the skills to make it happen, for example my fingers might not be trained to reach so far, or the bowing technique is something I haven’t yet learned.
So I suppose my job for this second year of my MFA is to work on bridging that gap between where I’m at with my writing and where I want to be. I have to keep on writing marginal fiction and trust that I’ll recognize when something in it doesn’t seem right. Then I have to figure out what to nix or change or tweak in order to make it better. And I have to keep reading great fiction and thinking about what makes it great in the first place. It’s like putting together a complicated puzzle, but with pieces I have to hand craft myself.
Someday I’ll be glad I set myself up for this challenge, but between now and Tuesday night it’s going to hurt.
The ceilings have been lowered and the walls are pushing in. Even if the winds weren’t howling, if sprays of rain weren’t pelting the side of the house, even if I were warm and dry inside a silent house with no access to the weather forecast, I would feel this storm. It’s all pressure. It’s a dull headache and achy joints. It’s slowing me down.
Outside everything is accelerated: Gusts to 55mph. Three feet of snow from Tuesday now condensed to a waterlogged foot and a half. The driveway, meticulously plowed a few days ago to allow us access to the world, has become a southern sloping waterway; its riverbed made of ice. Inside we sip coffee, read books. We think of the things we’ll bake—assuming the electricity stays. We watch water pour off the roof, wonder when the snow will reach its saturation point. Dinner with friends across town is cancelled.
The forecasters have used the word cyclone to describe this storm. The satellite image is reminiscent of hurricanes and typhoons. The startling terminology aside, this kind of weather system is not uncommon here and it poses no danger to our house. We aren’t in a flood zone. No trees will blow over onto our roof. We might lose our power and we might be cut off from getting to town for a few days, but even those things are unlikely. All we really have to do is keep a fire burning in the wood stove and wait for things to get back to normal.
Several years ago a relative asked me, “What’s so special about Alaska?” Her accusing tone made me defensive and I talked about the mountains and the ocean and the extreme weather. I talked about the long hours of daylight in the summer, the darkness in the winter. I mentioned the northern lights and grizzly bears. Everything I said was true, but she wasn’t convinced. And to be honest, neither was I—every place has something to make it special. But her pointed question and my inadequate answers have stayed with me.
And today there is no place I have to be, no thing I have to do, which allows me to enjoy this storm and whatever it might bring. Outside, the world is a giant swirl of wind and rain and snow and muck, and as I’m writing this I can see a bald eagle from the window beside my kitchen table. Its wings are spread. It’s coasting on the currents of this storm—rising and falling—giving in to the push and pull of the wind. I watch it and wonder, what’s so special about children? Or coffee, or flowers or chocolate, for that matter. What’s the big deal about the sky or stars or fire? Why spend an hour writing about a storm or watching an eagle play in the winds of a cyclone?
No reason. No reason at all.
I would have been comfortable
floating somewhere near medium
in the realm of muted colors, suburban
yards and lite-rock.
But with you it’s AC DC,
1975 green shag
and weeds so tall
it’d take a machete to cut a trail
back to normal.
* * *
It seems appropriate—in a full-circle kind of way—that I’m going to Montana next week. That’s where a lot of things started for me nearly twenty-three years ago. As a twenty-year-old I moved to Missoula “to go to school,” but the real reason was to be nearer a guy that I’d met while fighting fires in New Mexico. He lived in a small town not too far away in Idaho and the University of Montana was the closest place where I could continue my education.
The guy from Idaho was the wrong guy—that’s something I knew even before I went there—but it turns out that everything else about moving to Montana was right. I didn’t know a soul in Missoula and so it worked out to be the place where I started to figure a few things out for myself.
It’s where I began to pay attention to nature. It sounds silly because I grew up in Western Colorado, one of the most amazingly beautiful places I’ve ever been, but the landscape was different in Montana, so I began to see things I’d failed to notice as a kid.
It’s where I started to question religion and where I began to appreciate literature. It’s where I first had the idea to start writing. And it’s where I eventually met Dean. Three years later we were on our way to Alaska and our first child, Dillon, was on the way. He turns twenty on Sunday.
Nothing about our journey from there to here has been what I would have predicted. As a child I imagined a much more mainstream way of living. But we haven’t taken the normal route: We got married young. We had kids young. And since then it’s been a flurry of school and summer camp and trips across the bay (when the motor doesn’t peter out) and jobs and struggling to pay the bills and homeschool and taking classes to finish the degree and gardens and neighborhood get-togethers and dogs and chickens and bears in the yard and dipnetting for salmon and old time fiddle tunes and accidents on icy roads and gun-yielding neighbors on one side and nudist neighbors on the other and all of it has been a mix of love and heartbreak and fun and frustration—and it’s been twenty years. And now our youngest child is leaving for Montana.
Adella was born in Alaska and has been anxious to go someplace new for a few years now and so she’s going to Missoula to live with friends for her senior year of high school. And I get to go down there with her to get her registered for school and spend a week in the place where so many things began for me. Montana seemed pretty extreme when I moved there from Colorado all those years ago. It will be interesting to see how I perceive it after having lived in Alaska for twenty years.
(The poem at the top was in the Winter Solstice 2011 Issue of Cirque Literary Journal.)
A few months ago I had a conversation with my kids about careers. My son is nineteen and trying to figure out what comes next for him. My daughter is sixteen and has the next decade of her life completely mapped out. They are about as dissimilar as two kids can be. I constantly wonder how it’s possible for two people from the same genetic pool to turn out so incredibly different from one another. It’s something that has baffled parents from the beginning of time, I’m sure.
The great thing about raising kids from such opposite edges of the universe is that I’ve learned so much from them—things I never would have imagined on my own if I had been given two very mediocre children. Life would have been so predictable and boring had that been the case.
From Dillon I’ve learned that there are different paradigms from which to see the world. Sure, I knew that already, but I’d never lived with someone who was seemingly born with that knowledge. He questions everything and always has. I admit that it’s made for some challenging parenting, but then I think of when I was a kid; I believed the things adults told me without much wonder as to whether they were right or not. I did not question authority. I did not imagine another way. Dillon sees the world with a much broader lens than I do, and for the past nineteen years he’s shown me new ways of thinking. His approach to life has made me a less judgmental person. Parenting him has given me the courage to care less about convention.
Adella has shown me the power of discipline. I know that kids are supposed to learn about determination and hard work from their parents but I can honestly say that that has not been the case in our family. Adella was born with the inability to procrastinate and as a result she gets more done than anyone I know. She’s not afraid of tackling any task or assignment. When she’s struggling with a concept in math or a song for choir, she doubles up her efforts, she puts in her time, she works until she gets it. She’s driven in a way that I have never been, and watching her set and meet goals is an inspiration.
When I try to imagine where my kids will be a decade from now I have an easier time imagining where Adella might be. Although I don’t know what career she’ll choose, I imagine that she’ll have one firmly established by then. When I ask her what she wants to study her answers vary. She’s interested in psychology and social sciences. She also wants to travel. She’s got her path figured out though—she wants to graduate from high school early, go to a small liberal arts college on the East Coast and then possibly medical school. She’s quick to point out that she might change her mind about the medical school part though.
Dillon lives more in the here and now, so his future is more mysterious. When I ask him what he wants to do for a career he doesn’t have an answer, but he might pick up his guitar and play something that he’s written—some heart-felt melody that he’s come up with on his own. He shows me the value of being present in the moment. He reminds me that for some, the journey is more interesting if the route involves meandering the back roads for a while instead of taking the interstate.
They’re at that age now, where we have a lot of discussions about the future. In one of our conversations a while back, when I was questioning them about their desires and goals, they turned it back on me. “What did you always want to be, Mom? Have you always wanted to be a writer?” I thought about it for a while. I thought back to when I was their age. I didn’t have any career goals. If anyone were to have asked me what I wanted to be back then I would have told them I wanted to become a teacher, but that wasn’t necessarily true. The true answer wasn’t something anyone wanted to hear, especially from a teenager.
“I wanted to be a mom,” I told them. “It’s the one thing—the only thing—I really knew about myself.”
I think they were surprised to hear me say that. For the last several years I’ve been so busy working and going to school and trying to establish myself as a writer that I may not have given them the impression that they were my first choice, that I wanted them first and foremost. Sure, I want to be a wildly successful writer now, but it will always be lower on the rung of things I’ve wanted in my life. I wanted them most of all and I’ve been lucky and blessed enough to have my heart’s desire. Everything else I might have or achieve just adds to the abundance of what I’ve already been given.
I recently read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. It’s a book that’s been around for a while and although I kept meaning to read it, it somehow kept getting pushed to the bottom of my list. Now I can say with confidence that it’s among my favorites and I wish everyone would read it.
Tim O’Brien was drafted into the Vietnam War and he wrote The Things They Carried based on his experiences before, during and after his tour of duty. He plays with fiction in such a way that as I was reading it I kept finding myself confused as to whether I was reading fiction or nonfiction or some weird hybrid of both, which I think was O’Brien’s whole point. It was the perfect example of fiction being used to tell the truth, and a reminder that truth is powerful, regardless of how it’s expressed. This is good stuff for a struggling writer to remember.
Today I’m working on my own piece of fiction, but I’m distracted. I keep thinking about my nephew Dan, who’s spent the last year of his life in Afghanistan. This, his third (or is it his fourth?) tour of duty, is coming to a close and soon he’ll be back in Colorado. I keep checking Facebook to see if he’s updated his status to say that he’s on his way, but so far he’s just said, “1 step closer.” It’s the anticipation of his leaving the country that’s making it hard for me to focus on anything else.
I don’t know the things that Dan will be bringing home with him from the war—the images and people and experiences he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life, but I do know that a person can’t be sent to war and come out of it unchanged.
Some things about Dan are unchanging though. For as long as I’ve known him (which is his whole life,) he’s had an unfaltering faith in God. He’s been wise beyond his years. Kindness is something he’s never had to work at—it comes naturally to him, and his experiences, both good and bad, have given him the ability to truly empathize with others. He’s also got a great sense of adventure. These unchanging things that he’s had with him since he was a boy will help him carry anything that might feel too heavy.
So as I’m here at home, on the comfort of my couch, struggling to write fiction, I’m thinking about Dan, who’s had a long, rough year in a hostile land. He’s seen things that I’ll never see. He’s lost friends in ways that I never will. I hope he knows that I’m thankful that he went, thankful that he served, but mostly I’m thankful that he’ll be home soon. Today, nothing feels more important than that.
As many of you know, it’s been a big snow year in south central Alaska. A few big storms left us buried early on, and due to the cold temperatures it never melted. It just kept adding layers until finally, sometime around the spring equinox, we crossed over into the thawing stage.
It hasn’t been as messy a breakup as some years; we haven’t had much rain or a thin layer of volcanic ash on top of the snow like we had a few years ago when Mount Redoubt blew. That year when the sun came out the snow melted so fast that the streets flooded. Even the mountains across the bay lost their white cover in what seemed like a matter of days.
But this year the thaw is gradual. Every few days we’ll discover something new in our yard that has been buried all winter—a missing shovel or the dogs’ Frisbee. And the melting is uneven. The snow drifts were highest on the west side of the house, which means that the crocuses are still under nearly three feet of snow. In the front yard, where the sun blazes against the blue siding of the house, some nice heat is generated. There a few blades of grass are turning green and the chives are poking through, long enough already to add to the scrambled eggs.
* * *
I think about my dad this time of year. It was five years ago in April when we realized he was dying. By the time they’d diagnosed him with Multiple Myeloma it was too late. That year, in the time it took to go from winter to spring, I had to adjust to the idea of my father being gone forever.
One of the hardest things, one of the things I never admitted to him, was that I don’t believe in heaven. When I said goodbye to him, it was really goodbye. I didn’t have any notion of all of us someday feasting together at a common table situated somewhere on streets paved of gold in the sky. It’s a lovely idea, a hopeful idea, but I can’t make myself believe it—even though I’ve tried.
Since my dad’s been gone I’ve been able to be more honest about my beliefs, or, as the case may be, my non-beliefs. While he was still around I didn’t want to risk the possibility of him thinking less of me. And once he was gone it didn’t take long for me to find the courage to voice my opinions. The year after he died I published my first piece of writing ever, and it had to do with the offense I felt at all of the hell-fire talk my family had to endure at the ceremony outside of Telluride when we scattered his ashes. It was a traumatic event for me, but it was the beginning of my own gradual thaw. Things I’d kept hidden away began to surface. They’re still surfacing.
I’ll never know exactly how things would be if my dad were still here. Would I have figured out a way to be honest with him about my beliefs? Would I be as outspoken about my tendency toward agnosticism? Sometimes it’s easier to hide the truth than it is to hurt the people we love. I like to think that if we’d had more time we could have navigated our way through our differences. My dad may not have understood me, or my way of thinking, but he loved me and I loved him. And love has a way of superseding belief, if we let it.