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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ramblings, in Love Minor

Kids are screaming outside my window. Toys crash against patio fences. A little boy screeches away a commentary on his own, solitary hockey game. A little girl -- I peek from behind the curtains, she has blond curly hair and is dressed in a pink princess outfit -- bursts into high-pitched laughter. I remember, as I sit at my desk trying to collect myself and to find a bit of silence inside me so that I can think, about two pieces of news I heard yesterday on the radio. One about a woman in England who's suing for the right to implant in her womb embryos she has made with a ex-fiance who doesn't want to be a father any more. The other about stray dogs, what to do about their numbers, about the irresponsible owners who have abandoned them.

These two disconnected thoughts have been battering against the insides of my head. They troubled me; I didn't know what to make of them. But it occurs to me now -- the children's voices have died down; I can hear the crows in the eucalyptus trees, their cawing strangely calming -- that what I've been struggling with without really knowing it is the fate of the lives that we choose to protect and to be responsible for, for a time, and then are at a loss what to do with. Dogs, whom so many people love, but leave when this love become inconvenient. And children -- so many people, like that woman in England, fight with such fierce love to bring them into the world, to make a thing, a person that belongs to them in a way that nothing else can. And so many people end up abandoning their children, not in a physical way necessarily, not in any visible, obvious way. But there's a retreat of understanding, of compassion because it turns out that this person they have made is complicated, hard to deal with, sometimes impossible to understand.

I know parents who aren't like that. They are not the ones I'm talking about.

What to do with something that you've made but now has a life of its own and doesn't need you any more? Alice Munro digs deep into this question in one of her recent short stories, "Silence." Juliet, the story's main character, spends years waiting for a sign of life from her daughter, Penelope, who has left one summer for a spiritual retreat and hasn't returned. Penelope doesn't even send letters. After many years of waiting Juliet finds out by accident that her daughter is married to a doctor in a small town in Northern Canada and has five children. She has the impulse to go visit the small town, to wander around its stores to catch a glimpse of Penelope. But she decides not to. She makes an attempt at the end of the story to come to terms with Penelope's breaking all ties with her, and it's heartbreaking.

"My daughter went away without telling me good-bye and in fact she probably did not know then that she was going. She didn't not know it was for good. Then gradually, I believe, it dawned on her how much she wanted to stay away. It is just a way that she has found to manage her life.

"It's maybe the explaining to me that she can't face. Or has not time for, really. You know, we always have the idea that there is this reason or that reason and we keep trying to find out reasons. And I could tell you plenty about what I've done wrong. But I think the reason may be something not so easily dug out. Something like purity in her nature. Yes. Some fineness and strictness and purity, some rock-hard honesty in her. My father used to say of someone he disliked, that he had no use for that person. Couldn't those words mean simply what they say? Penelope does not have a use for me.

"Maybe she can't stand me. It's possible."

It feels good to ramble (oh, the etymology of "ramble" goes back to a Dutch word that refers to animals wandering about in heat!) about these half-formed ideas that pester me for days and days, to try to tease out some rhyme and reason out of them. I never know what I will find when I follow their feeble, frayed threads. And more often than not I end up glad that I did follow it, and glad that I have this head on my shoulder. It's good to think. It's very good. It's like a nice, long, sweaty yoga class for the brain.


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