Today I saw suspended over the water of an unnamed lake, a large swirl of birds, white birds. They gathered together in a spiral. They were hanging like a beaded curtain. The water was dark blue. The first strains of Kristen Hersh’s “Me and My Charms” came over my radio, the guitar notes plucked from the air.
How can anyone drive by and not see that? Not be moved? Not stop?
Afterward I realized the sky had finally cleared, the clouds burned away by sun. Afterward I had a day of editing, a day when I hated my novel (which is every other day), when I couldn’t make sense of my poetry manuscript (which is every day). I sat at the public library all afternoon, working. No one bothers me there, and people come and go, and the windows are open, and through them, I can hear children from the school next door in joyful, violent, intervals.
I stretched on the hard, blonde wood chair and had a sudden memory of high school, study hall, what I would do when I came home, which was this. This. I would do this. I would go down to the basement, to the wood-paneled basement, to a tiny green and black screen computer beside my father’s trains, the Christmas boxes, the water-stained tile ceiling, the sour mold smell, and write.
I was writing a book of poems. I was writing a memoir. I was writing a novel that continued the story of “Lord of the Rings” with more female characters, the plot of which somehow involved the character loosely based on me marrying Aragon. I was writing until my mother called me upstairs for dinner and ballet class and play rehearsal, and then I was writing in the breaks between songs, in the passing of peas and corn, in the car. I dreamed of going to boarding school, or college, or Cleveland. There was a map on the wall above the basement computer, also water-brown, and I used to look up when I was stuck and dream of living somewhere else. My little sister and I used to spin the globe our father had given us, and point our fingers, and where our finger landed on, where the globe stopped, was where we would live, where we would go.
We have been to many of those places. I live in one of them now. I live in one, and I spend most of the day, most days, doing what high school me, and junior high me, and elementary school me, and me before that me dreamed of doing.
I write all day. I sit in a library, and make stuff up, and try to make sense, an order, of stuff that happened, and sometimes, though not often, people even read it. And I read. And I walk around in the world and notice, and am loved, and love, and am moved by a column of birds.
I don’t know if I am living in a way to make my childhood self proud. I haven’t joined Up with People, and I don’t have a bunch of books, and I don’t live in Europe with a family of adopted children and grand pianos and rescued circus ponies.
But I think sixteen year-old me would be happy. I think sixteen year-old me would be proud. I think that’s a start, pleasing yourself as a teenager, thinking about: what did you dream, those wasted afternoons in study hall? Staring out the cafeteria windows, what did you see? What did you doodle? What did you think about, when you were trapped? What took you away, and where did you go? What did you look for beyond the waste of Ohio, beyond seventh period, beyond winter, beyond snow, beyond farm deaths, and pep rallies, and boredom and wheat?
There was something there.
Start there. Start there. Work your way back to her.