We kicked off September, the month when Mani turns 40 and we celebrate our third anniversary, with a few nights in Maine. We listened to hours of Regina Spektor in the car, getting psyched to see her in concert in November. We hit a natural foods store when we rolled into town, always our first stop these days since we still do most of our eating at “home” in an Airbnb. This little ritual of checking out the local coop in whatever place we’re visiting is one of our favorite things about our getaways. Then we found the place we were staying and were greeted by the owner, a 60-year-old woman with a shock of white hair and a friendly smile. She reminded me a bit of Kathy Bates (in some of her friendlier roles, thankfully).
Our hostess showed us the way to our cozy one-bedroom apartment, which was on the second floor of an old barn. We sussed out the apartment; it was decorated with white lace curtains, a combination of red and pink furniture and accents, and a decidedly quaint New England feel. A mobile of seashells hung in front of the windows above the kitchen sink, and a three-ring binder filled with brochures and menus sat on the table. We tested the bed out immediately (acceptably firm), and made some dinner.
While Mani was cooking, the spatula she had resting against a pan slipped onto the stove top. She propped it back up, and a second later it literally flew onto the floor. We didn’t feel scared, though we definitely both had the thought that someone or something wanted to announce their presence.
Slow mornings in bed with strong coffee followed, along with a visit with my oldest friend in her Portland home, where she moved about a year ago. We walked on the Eastern Promenade and soaked up every ray of sunshine, watching kayaks, paddleboards, and sailboats out on the blue, blue water. It could not have been a more beautiful afternoon to enjoy by the ocean.
We went to see The Glass Castle (wow) and still managed to be in bed by 9:30pm. A chilly, rainy Sunday followed, and with not a parking spot to be found in downtown Portland and content to just be together, we decided to go see another movie (Wind River). After that, we spent the evening cutting up magazines and making collages at the kitchen table.
In one of my many secret lives, I have an alter ego as a filmmaker. I love films that make me feel, think, laugh, cry, and have great conversations afterwards. I love being provoked, disturbed, turned on, and transported. I love laughing out loud in the theater or sitting long past the credits, stunned or sobbing. I love good writing and acting and directing and cinematography. I marvel at all of it and have such respect and admiration for the many people who make this form of magic real.
As a kid, I often thought of my life as a movie, being filmed somehow from above, from the sky. Not surprisingly, I was the main character. Songs like “I’ll Stop the World and Melt with You” were on the soundtrack, and David Bowie’s “Heroes,” and I wondered when I would find my one true love. To say I was a lonely romantic would be accurate, if an understatement.
I read this quote tonight, shared in one of my writing groups. It’s from a longer post, Afloat on Shreen Water, by a writer named Melissa Harrison.
“Creativity, to me, is nothing less than a belief that one can change the world. It means looking at the world as it is, and deciding, utterly audaciously, that it would be better – that it would be improved – by you adding something new to it. Creating something from your own innermost self and putting it out into the world is a transformative act.”
Before we headed home today, we went about 10 miles out of our way so that I could find The Holy Donut, which I’d read about in the binder. In the past, when I was just a wee bit chronically underweight forever and ever up until the last year or so, I would not have eaten the donuts. It is a bit hard for me to admit this. I want to say my joie de vivre and appetite for life suffered no body dysmorphia or fear of certain foods, but that wouldn’t be true.
Now, I weigh at least 10 pounds more than my “highest” weight in the past, and I got not one but three different donuts (blueberry lemon, sweet potato ginger glaze, and dark chocolate sea salt). (As an aside, how is it that even when I restricted calories, I wouldn’t have eaten donuts but I polished off many, many pints of ice cream by myself? Eating disorders are twisted and irrational, my friends.)
Anyway. Movies. Donuts. Where was I?
I ate the donuts. Not all of them, but enough — washed down with a large latte made with whole milk — to feel full, satisfied, and giddy at how delicious they were. I also looked at a photo of people in Mumbai wading through waist-high water — while I ate the donuts — and groaned. “And I’m eating donuts,” I said to Mani, who reminded me that my not eating donuts wasn’t going to make the flood waters recede.
And such is the reality of our world. All of the simultaneity — the very thing I felt like “my” movie was about when I was young, rushing up like high tide. Life is a crushing collision of epic normalcy and nuance and tragedy and love stories and teenagers and crickets and donuts and heroes. We are all bad guys and good guys at one time or another, and if we dare to be creative, maybe, just maybe, what we find interesting and worthy of our attention will catch the light for someone else, too. Will alter their way of seeing or being. The thing is, we often never know — and must keep going (living, creating, loving, writing, being, working, learning, giving) on faith.
It’s that faith that keeps me going. Makes me show up here to write, which I was imagining all weekend long, even though I stared at the blank screen and thought, I can’t. I can’t do it. I have nothing. But I have this — back home in my own kitchen, my wife listening to Krishna Das in the other room, a cool breeze through the open window, and a month of milestones I feel insanely blessed to be here to meet. I can truly say I don’t take any of it for granted.
Last week, I had an unexpected cry the night after the kids’ first day of school. It surprised me, how the tears just came pouring out after I’d said goodnight to them both. That poignant, intense, unmitigated sense of time passing hit me so hard, in a way that it hadn’t for quite a while. I’m always aware of time, but mostly these days feel more like I’m just kind of in it, here. This was different, more like a blast of air moving through the room, spatulas flying, chest tight. My babies are growing up and it is the most beautiful, moving thing I’ve ever witnessed.
I stand back now, just enough to see Mani eating a bowl of ice cream (she came in while I was writing). Just enough to see that my sweet family is solid in ways I could only have prayed for some years back. Just enough to see my own body — curves and graying hair and a deepening sense of equilibrium, or at the very least a growing ability to reel myself back in without too much drama when I drift out to the seas of self-doubt or perfectionism.
The world needs courage. It always has, and I suspect it has always felt like now — whenever and wherever that “now” has been — is more urgent than ever. And so it is. And so we keep stepping forward from these ordinary days, all the way into the needs that present themselves, the songs that come on, the strangers we encounter, the delicious surprises and the horrific disparities and injustices that don’t but should plague us all.
From this place of already being enough, it becomes possible to be and do more than perhaps we realized possible.