Friday, May 25, 2007

The idea of children, part 2

Back in February, I posted a blog entitled “revisiting the idea of children.” In that posting, I wrote of my fears of having a child – of what it would mean to my career, my sense of self, my peace of mind, and especially my cherished relationship with my husband. I wrote that I was terrified of what the entire process would bring, and that the idea seemed one that I’d need to push into the distant future to have time to prepare properly for the life-changing event it would surely be.

What a difference a few months makes.

It must have been late March or April when I was driving to work, and I started listening really closely to a song that was on the radio. Called “100 Years,” by Five for Fighting, it’s not a new song, not one that’s making waves now, or enjoying any special comeback. But it had been long enough since I’d heard it that I really listened to the lyrics. In the second or third verse, the singer intones, “I’m 33 for a moment – still the man, but you see I’m a ‘they’ – kid on the way, and a family on my mind / I’m 45 for a moment – the sea is high, and I’m heading into a crisis, chasing the years of my life.”

Innocuous, right? The meaningless fluff of pop drivel, no doubt. Those lines had never struck me as anything special before. But that day in the car, they brought tears to my eyes. The idea of preparing to start a family, immediately punctuated with expressions of fleeting time, and heading into a midlife crisis, aware of how much of your life is already behind you … it suddenly became perfectly clear to me that life IS short, that the days and moments of a life do indeed fly by with ever-increasing speed, and that I was somehow ready to embrace the idea of having a child. I was still scared of what it would mean – that hadn’t changed. But the fear was different – it was closer to the excitement you feel before doing something really daring, like heading off for a travel destination you’ve never been to, or getting ready to ski down your first “blue” slope, or eating sushi at a strip mall.

The best thing, though, was the sure knowledge that no matter how afraid I was, I wasn’t in this alone. My husband and I – well, let’s say we’ve been through a lot together over the eight years we’ve been together. My confidence and faith in him is as integral a part of my life as air, food, water. It finally clicked in my mind and heart that when he kept telling me we’d go through this together, that’s exactly what he meant – and that no matter what I’d seen in the families and couples whose lives touched mine, we would do it our way, side by side and hand in hand.

So after months and years of the idea being terrifying and me pushing it away, it had suddenly become terrifying with me embracing it. And just in time, too. Because it was early June when we found out we were going to have a baby.

Stay tuned. There's more coming on this topic.

Friday, May 04, 2007

From "Jane Eyre" to "Fight Club" ...

Here's something I found in my journal from four years ago. It's still true today.

** ** ** ** **

People often ask me why I enjoy reading so much. "What's so great about it?" they ask. "I'd much rather be surfing, or watching TV, or dancing than sitting and reading a book," they tell me, disgusted with my literary addiction.

My reasons always crowd together -- there are so many that I can't articulate them all at once. I read to relax -- the silence that usually accompanies reading is very soothing to me. I read to be alone -- I find that when I'm engrossed in a novel, others tend to drift away from me to carry on their more active, mobile lifestyles in another room. I read to escape -- the most well-written novels can pluck me from my couch or chair and plunk me down in the midst of a formal dinner party, a crowded Italian piazza, a lonely Scottish moor, or a rugged, pre-revolutionary American wildnerness (it's the cheapest form of travel I've discovered).

But most of all, I read to understand, to see, to get the reading right. Here's what I mean: when I open a book, my mind is clear. I stand poised on the brink of nothing. I don't mean a blank canvas -- that's too flat, too bounded by borders and edges. In my mind, there is quite truly nothing there -- a great, gaping emptiness waiting to be filled.

With the first words, that nothingness begins to fill rapidly. From the emptiness emerges a skeleton of what the author wants me to see. The word "forest" evokes tall trees, grassy clearings, and the occasional bit of moss. A few lines in, the word "frost" appears, and I quickly regroup -- now the trees are bare, their branches silvery-white, and the crisp dead leaves beneath my feet crunch as I break the ice crystals that lace them together. In another line, I read "breezy" -- and now the scene is alive with movement, the trees reaching and swaying in a coordinated dance, the tinkle of ice clear on the whisper of the wind.

With every line, paragraph, chapter and page, I keep updating my scene, trying to get it just the way I'm meant to get it. Seasons are replaced, props interchanged, people re-dressed in my head as I fly through the descriptions. And if I've done it right, I begin to know the book, feel its live heartbeat pulse in my hands, understand the characters, hear their voices. I start to really smell the furniture polish in the drawing room, feel the sweat trickle down my back from the humid August air, taste the smooth-oily flavor of the buttered eels on the dinner plate, grow tired with fatigue at the end of an emotionally-charged argument. At that point, I'm no longer a reader -- I am instead a ghost, haunting the story and its inhabitants, walking beside them, hearing their thoughts, sharing their meals and their beds and their heartaches. (And the beautiful thing about it is that I can get it perfectly right, and so can you -- and yet if we were to be able to show one another the book's faces in our heads, they would probably still look completely different.)

In the end, then, that's why I read -- not to hear a good story, but to live it alongside the people who make it happen. I read to taste another's life and dreams and fears, and make them mine. And when I close a book, I am never the same person who opened it. I am always enriched and challenged and haunted in return for what it has given me.