I love mornings. Pre-dawn pink through the window. My pajama girl and her big bright smile. Hot coffee. Fresh start.
I am an introvert.
I don’t mean that in an extreme way: introvert vs. extrovert. I believe there exists a broad spectrum. At one end, introvert walking happily alone in the woods with her thoughts; at the other end, extrovert chatting gregariously amongst a large group of acquaintances at the third scheduled event of the day. There is a vastness between the two, and while I think we generally lean toward one end, our energy for people or desire for solitude fluctuates depending on mood, personality, social setting, geography, and where we are in our lives.
I’m an introvert who requires pockets of solitude and feels anxious when the calendar fills up. I love being with my friends. If you were to see me with a group of close friends, you’d find me talking and laughing, and might even mistake me for an extrovert. Being with my closest friends energizes me. Big parties, even events where I will know most of the guests, exhaust me, both the anticipation and the experience of the event.
Alcohol as social lubricant, I get that.
I’m terrible at small talk. I love conversation.
I prefer a peaceful walk on the beach to a walk through town.
I am less introverted during the summer.
I loved throwing parties in my twenties. Now I find it overwhelming. Except for small dinner parties and outdoor barbecues – just the thought makes me long for summer.
I am much less introverted at this stage of motherhood than during those first days, weeks, months.
I love small writing workshops and tend to warm up quickly, but I dread reading my work aloud.
I drown at Christmas time. This year I put together a Christmas folder with lists and timelines, a strategy to help with the overwhelm – or at least keep me organized.
I have finally gotten the knack for talking to other moms at the playground with ease.
In a culture that prizes extroversion, I often feel that my introverted nature means I do not fit very well into this world.
I was almost an extrovert when I lived in New York City.
I was an introvert when I lived in the Berkshires.
I was an extrovert when I lived in Santa Fe.
Upon meeting for the first time, I will let you reveal who you are before I share pieces of myself.
A day of solitude is bliss. A long stretch of solitude feels lonely.
I can feel a person’s energy like a hot stove or cool water, an oppressive wind or warm sunshine. Bad energy can bring me down. But when it’s good, it’s the most potent elixir.
I feel empty of words tonight. I’m under the weather. So I offer my kitchen windowsill, which is not a catchall but curated, and somehow, I think, says a lot about me.
This is my current workspace a.k.a. dining room table, which is actually located in the living room, the heart of the house. This afternoon when I snapped the photo, it was in a fairly tidy state, but it’s always in flux. Books, crayons, paint, dollhouse people, a tube of Neosporin, rubber stamps, my handwritten notes on whatever scrap of paper happens to be available. And of course we eat dinner here too. I’m not sure when the stuffed dino climbed atop The Chronology of Water – note: when I love a book very much, I keep it close for a long while even if I’m not actively rereading it – but I’ve loved having him peeking at me from behind the screen this week.
A storm rolled in at midnight, lighting up the bedroom. Big cracks of thunder. The wind coming off the water gusted over the roof like it might tear it off. It was enough to wake Isabella, but she wasn’t bothered by it.
I thought of the eagles in their nest in the patch of woods a block away. How they must be hunkered deep protecting their new eggs. The sway of those high branches, the rain pelting tucked wings. What a night to endure high up in a tree. I thought of the three squirrels who dwell in the thick hollowed out branch of our backyard maple. And the small birds, the woodpeckers, cardinals, blue jays and robins, who frequent our feeder. I lay listening to the storm wishing them all safe refuge. I think about us all being made of the same life force embodied in different physical forms. I think about it as a family value, unspoken but understood among the three of us, a deep respect, a reverence for all life. I think less about instilling this value in my daughter and more about the way she instilled this in me with her birth, her very existence.
In the course of writing this post this morning, alternately doing dishes and sitting slumped at the computer indian-style, breastfeeding the two-year old in my lap while my hands fly across the keyboard, I see the eagle swooping, soaring from the window. I scoop up Isabella and run barefoot and jacketless in pajamas out the back door onto the wet deck to get a better look. There she is, soaring against the new blue sky. I call to Chris who’s upstairs, “Get the camera, they’re putting on a show!” He dresses and rushes out, walks up to the woods with the camera.
He returns a half hour later with the news that the nest is gone, and with it their two new eggs. The spectacular swoop and soar from the woods to our house and back again is one of distress. Chris says, “She’s screeching. She’s beside herself.” Isabella is in my lap, our cheeks pressed together as we watch the eagle fly low and straight over us. “Do you see that?” I say. “The mama eagle is flying.” And she says, “Eagle! We have to give her food!” She has the right idea, wanting to help in some way. But as with so much of life, all we can do is watch, pay attention, and with reverence, bear witness.
Photo credit goes to my nature-loving husband, Chris Bousquet, who can name all the birds and plants and trees.
In my early twenties, when I was living in Santa Fe, I read War and Peace cover to cover. For pleasure. I was so immersed in it, I began buying a smoky Russian tea and fixed it the same way they do in the book. There in the high desert in our adobe house, I would drink cups of Russian tea and read and read. I was so obsessed toward the end, I made up my mind to travel to Tolstoy’s grave to pay homage.
Remember that whole “kill your TV” thing? Yeah, I’ve always been one of those people. Still am. But it kind of cracks me up now with everyone so addicted to iPhones they can barely look up long enough to even watch a television show. In the battle of the screens, TV’s lost all its power.
We do have a TV, but we killed our cable. Still somewhat meaningless because we’re able to stream shows on demand. And let’s get real, if it weren’t for my child’s love of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, I wouldn’t get anything written.
Today I got that feeling. Driving, window down. Sunshine warming cool air whispering change of season. The New Basement Tapes playing “Nothing To It.” It comes up like an itch. I could just turn onto the highway and keep driving clear across the country.
I wonder… does anyone else know that feeling?
Has anyone watched Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued? I’ve been listening to the songs and watching clips, but finally sat down to watch the full documentary last night. In the summer of 1967 Bob Dylan disappears to a pink house in West Saugerties, New York to recover from a motorcycle accident, escape the grind of touring, and just kick around. It ends up being the most prolific songwriting time of his life. Sometimes Dylan writes longhand, sometimes on a typewriter. One of his buddies, a fellow musician, says, he’d write these letters everyday and never send them. I’ve never seen someone write so many letters to himself.
Dylan and his crew record over a hundred songs in the basement of Big Pink. Some rise to the surface as huge hits, “I Shall Be Released,” “The Mighty Quinn,” “You Ain’t Going Nowhere.” But most of the songs are never heard again. There’s a bootleg called Great White Wonder that appears in ’69, and then Capitol Records releases 16 songs in ’75 called The Basement Tapes album.
Almost fifty years later, T Bone Burnett gets a message from Dylan’s publisher that a box of lyrics has been found, all handwritten. Dylan okays their release, and T Bone brings together Rhiannon Giddens, Elvis Costello, Taylor Goldsmith, Jim James, and Marcus Mumford to develop the lyrics into songs and record an album in two short weeks. The documentary follows their creative process, how they coax the songs into being. Costello comes in as Costello. Goldsmith and James do a lot of work ahead of time, have some songs figured out.
Mumford and Giddens struggle the most. Mumford admits to relying on the collaborative dynamic, the magic that happens when you’re all in a room riffing on a tune. Eventually he goes off alone to work on a song so he can bring something whole to the table. He says he’s not used to writing like this, cutting an album in just two weeks. Normally it takes him six months to write a single song. He talks about feeling insecure – though more secure than he would’ve felt two years ago – and questions whether insecurity is essential to making art. We see the artist mid process, hitting those notes that aren’t yet the right ones, trying to find his way there. When they all get back into the studio – pow – Mumford blows the lid off with “Kansas City”. I can’t stop listening to that song. And I love you dear / but just how long / can I keep singing the same old song?
Rhiannon Giddens. Let’s just pause here and give her a nod for being the only woman in the studio, sticking to her guns and letting her voice rise and resound above those noisy male egos. She’s trying to draw out “Lost On The River”, but it’s eluding her. The guys try to collaborate, adding big rhythm, louder bass. She cuts them off again and again. It’s not working. They’re not hearing what she’s after. Eventually they call it quits. You watch her go through the evolution of persistence and doubt and frustration. She comes close to just letting the song go. But Mumford stays with her. He can hear what she’s trying to do. He encourages her. Let’s keep working this out. And Giddens says, it makes such a difference when someone believes in you. So they keep after it and they keep after it, and Giddens coaxes that song into being. Her version. The one she could hear rising up inside her.
This is how art gets made. Sometimes it arrives fast, all coming together with the wave of an orchestral magic wand. But most times you’re trudging through, groping around with your arms outstretched. You can hear it, you know it’s there, but you have to solve the mystery of bringing it into being. You know it’s possible. You’ve done this before. You’ve been doing it for years. But still. You get frustrated, wonder if what you’re hearing is real, wonder if it’s even worth it. And then a voice reaches you, keep going, sweet pea, it is so worth it. Another artist, fellow conjurer, urges you on. And it makes all the difference. A massive thanks to the writer Cynthia Newberry Martin for hearing my music, inspiring me with your writing, encouraging me on this leg of the journey, and for the mention on Catching Days this week. Thank you to the writer Rachel Federman at Last American Childhood for keeping me in conversation with thoughtful comments and the beautiful writing on your blog. And thank you to a dear offline writer and other friends who read along and send me messages. I’d thought a lot about doing this project in a notebook, working quietly in a vacuum. It’s scary to be in process out loud, letting people hear all those off-key notes as you struggle to find the song.
That’s how the writing comes through for me, like a song, a galloping rhythm, a halting tone. Story comes in like a wisp, a thread to an idea. There is never a story that shows up whole or characters who knock at my door. It arrives as sound, a song I have to figure out how to sing. I listen for it. The galloping. And then I have to catch it, coax it. These thoughts on process might be the most cohesive writing I accomplished on Saturday, that quiet day I had all to myself. I’d imagined immensities, but it didn’t quite go that way. When my family arrived home at 3:30 in the afternoon, I didn’t have a twenty page manuscript to wave at them. But the sun was shining and it almost felt like spring. We headed out for a walk to the beach. Along the way, Isabella found a cattail in the grass. She raised it up, an orchestral magic wand, as if in tribute to the day, as if she could hear music.
Do you hear that?
Not the temporary quiet of sleeping baby. Not the little old lady from Goodnight Moon whispering hush. I’m talking husband with toddler taking a day trip across state lines to visit grandparents quiet. Blue sky almost-spring sunshine fed cats asleep in windows quiet. Alone in the house for a good big stretch of day quiet.
Drink. That. In.
This has not happened since I’ve become a mother. A whole entire day alone. I couldn’t relinquish her to the world for the span of an entire day until today. I know how bonkers that sounds. But it’s the truth. It took so long for the miracle of her to arrive, my life’s sole mission became protectress. It was nothing I planned and everything I had to be.
Fast forward to this week. Plans keep changing. People keep canceling, new things pop up. It must be planetary or something. So it was partly by chance I carved out this day and tasked myself with an assignment that, in reviewing the criteria this morning, seems insurmountable. Daunting at best. For the final section of this thing, I have no relevant awards I can think of nor big publications to brag about. Nothing forthcoming in Glimmertrain or The Sun or Brain, Child.
I’m just forthcoming.
But I have this day, and I’m going for it.