Two weeks ago, I wrote a post about creativity in which I referenced a quote by NIck Cave, one of the most amazing lyricists currently writing music. Knowing how much I admire his work, my youngest son gave me his book, Stranger Than Kindness, for Mother’s Day. In a series of one page chapters, Cave begins the book by saying that we are born into existence and settle into the life we are living, believing it to be complete, until a cataclysmic event comes along that changes both the course of our lives, as well as who we are as individuals. Succinctly stated, we are one person before this occurrence and another person after it. Although this concept is not new, the simple way in which Cave presents it has remained with me since I read it on Sunday night. Before we even relate this idea to our own personal lives, we understand its meaning. We are aware of the potential moments in life that fall into this category. Some of them cause us great fear, like the thought of the sudden tragic loss that might break our hearts, or the awful news that could derail our future, or the terrible accident that we never saw coming. Other moments fall on the opposite side of the spectrum, like the career opportunity that is a dream come true, or the first time we hold our newborn child, or the unmistakeable, heart dropping instant when another person takes our breath away.
Since this upcoming Sunday is Mother’s day, I wanted to write today’s Friday Musing with the holiday in mind, which prompted me to remember a post that I wrote back in January of 2017 about The Joy Luck Club. In it, I talked about the fact that I had recently streamed the moviefor the upteenth time, and how rewatching it led me to take Amy Tan’s novel off my bookshelf, as it always does, to once again read the story that’s told at the very beginning. It’s about a woman who buys a swan from a market vendor who tells her that the bird was once a duck that wanted to be a goose, but its neck stretched so much that it became a swan instead. The woman brings the swan to America with her, hoping to one day give it to her daughter so that she will know that her life holds limitless possibilities in this new country. She could be anything that she dreamed of becoming. The swan is taken away from her by immigration officials, leaving just one feather behind. The woman waits to give her daughter the feather because she wants her English to be perfect. Only then will she be able to say, “This feather may look worthless, but it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions.”
I have a certain affection for the word midwinter. It has always helped me to verbalize this period that comes after Christmas when we are in post-celebratory mode, and the world has become a much quieter, introverted version of the one we left behind in December. As it turns out, the term midwinter is actually synonymous with the winter solstice, so it seems as though my thinking may have been a little bit off, at least in terms of timing. Maybe not in terms of sentiment, though, if we consider the opening lines of In the Bleak Midwinter, a Christmas poem written in 1872 by Christina Rossetti and set to music by Gustav Holst:
In last Friday’s post, I talked about a particular sense of calm that comes on Christmas Eve that presents us with the opportunity to find a moment of deep peace and joy. This year, I felt as though that moment came to me more easily, maybe because I’d shared the idea of it with all of you, or because the actual process of writing tends to make me more open to possibilities. In either case, I walked into Zachary’s house feeling very zen and ready to take on the Seven Fishes. Things were going along swimmingly (awful pun intended) until we set a baking sheet of kale on fire in the oven. Notice the calm spirit in which I write that sentence. Now, those of you who follow me know that this is not my first fiery rodeo in the kitchen. A few years ago, we had a similar mishap during which a tray of chopped pecans entered the oven as a potential cake garnish, only to emerge as a pile of ash reminiscent of the apocalypse. Needless to say, the kale suffered a similar fate. The first time around we did absolutely everything wrong in “handling” the fire; in fact, our behavior could have easily been made into a “How NOT to Act” fire safety video. What was our biggest mistake? Ah well, we opened the oven door, of course, and the fire became an inferno. This time when Zachary reached in that same direction, I stopped him. We turned off the oven, shooed everyone out of the house, and we watched the fire burn out and die.
It would be remiss of me to just begin again without some sort of an explanation as to where I’ve been. The truth is that there’s not a satisfying answer. I paused my writing for a while, always with the intention to return. I became busy with work that included making many cocktails, and with life, and I felt time passing, and I wondered if I’d ever be able to find my way back. I always expected that the urge to write again would come as a whisper in my ear, or a gentle nudge, but when it arrived a short while ago, it came as a full-on, handprints-on-my-back shove. In other words, it was not to be ignored. And so here I am telling you that I’d love to spend Friday mornings with you once again, if you’ll have me back. I truly hope you will…