World Maps, Drugs in the Trunk, and Life is Happening

20150124_155436-1-1_1_1I’ve been circling the writing wagon for hours now. Mani encouraged me to just sit down and start. Some of your best stuff comes that way, she said.

But I’m drawing such a blank, and the cursor just blinks. I think about the writing prompts I’ve been creating for the online groups, and how I encourage other people to just sit down and start.

This makes me roll my eyes a little at myself.

My own practice is admittedly benefiting from leading the groups; during each two-week session, I participate in the same way as everyone else, and even though I know what the prompts are going to be, what words come still surprise me.

Writing without a prompt, on the other hand, is a bit more like walking up the stairs in the dark and feeling for the top step. Or picking up a glass you think is full that is actually empty and goes flying.

This past week, I felt uneasy some of the time. Off-kilter, but for no specific reason. It reminded me of the feeling you get when you’re driving, and suddenly there are police lights behind you and it’s unclear whether it’s you or someone else being pulled over. In the brief moment between the spike of adrenaline of not knowing and the relief when the cruiser races past your car, have you ever been struck with the irrational fear that there are drugs in your trunk that you don’t know about? That’s the sensation I had last week. Like there were drugs in my trunk, but I didn’t put them there. Weird, right?

Today was snow, the kind that made me feel old when I thought, “Now this is how winter is supposed to be!” Today was kids–both of them–suited up and tromped outside, making angels and seeing who could face-plant longer and pulling the cutie-pie two-year-old from next door around in a plastic green sled, and Aviva climbing up on the car and doing snowball target practice against our second-story kitchen windows, and Pearl spending the entire rest of the day at her cousin’s house making an igloo. Today is Aviva having a sleepover with a friend, which is a rare event these days, and makes me happy as her mama.

Today, I made a list on the typewriter of Things I Want to Do With Mani, then cut up an old world map from the storage room at work (since it said “Soviet Union,” I couldn’t imagine we were ever going to make official use of it there, and took it home), and played with a glue stick and scissors and cardboard from a Costco-sized box of the gummies Pearl likes so much, and the alphabet stamps and blue ink I got in December to make Hanukkah gift certificates. It was relaxing, to do something that a) didn’t involve a screen and b) meant sitting on the floor surrounded by papers and guided by intuition.

What I wrote up writing, along the left side of my collage was this:

When you can’t go to the world, the world will come to you (trust life).

No drugs, no trunk. No worries, for once. Just a quiet snowy day and a little prayer answered, the one I spoke under my breath walking home alone from the farm this morning, for ease.

Ease. The world. The map. When I was a teenager, I had maps all over my bedroom walls, along with feminist bumper stickers and Bowie posters and poems. There are so, so many places I want to go. A couple of weeks ago, the girls and I met up with their dad at town hall, to submit their passport applications (Aviva has been invited to go see Taylor Swift (OMG) in Montreal this summer with her BFF from Burlington). I had to dig around for my passport, and noticed that it expires this April. The last time I used it was… let me think… 2005? Can that be? And Mani does not have one; she has only traveled outside of the United States to Canada and Tijuana, but before 9/11 when you could cross those borders sans passport.

At this moment in our lives, it is unlikely we will be going abroad anytime soon. As I type this, she is eating (yet another) bowl of rice, and pinning delectable dishes to her many Pinterest food boards, an exercise less in self-torture and more in making the reality of her current dietary limitations tolerable, reminding herself that she LOVES food and flavor. She has been watching Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” show, where he travels to places as varied as Brittany and Laos and Maine, to eat and hang out with the people who cook and eat and share a love of good food.

All of this could make our world feel pretty small these days. And at the same time, it reminds me that the world is, in fact, quite big. And there are reasons beyond our knowing for why things are the way they are, why we are here, in Amherst, at a time that she has finally been diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Disorder. It’s not something either of us had even heard of until a couple of months ago. It’s sometimes referred to as an “imitation disease,” since its symptoms can present as so many other diagnoses. And I’m not going to sugar-coat–it sucks. But what sucked more was her being sick, losing weight, reacting, even anaphylactically, to things she wasn’t necessarily “allergic” to, having heart palpitations and dizziness and fatigue for months–and not knowing why.

Knowledge is power. It is the beginning of her getting well. Looking at the map today, while not the same as planning a trip or boarding a plane, was touching that part of me that longs to travel and believes that we will. Listening to Aviva and her friend eat oreos in the kitchen–this is good, for a preadolescent kid who insists that just about everything (weekends, summers, life outside of school) is “not a social activity.” Pearl calling to say she wants to spend the night at her cousin’s house–good. The row of books on the ledge of the window seat, the fact that I can move through moments, hours, days even, of unease, and come back to trusting life–not just saying the words but finding that place inside of myself that wants to be here for the unfolding of it.

And what is it I’m writing? What stops me–when I sit down to write with no prompt, without inspiration even, with no idea what to say, only that vague feeling that I’m forgetting important things, things that surely occurred to me throughout the week and were gone as quickly as they appeared, that fleeting fear that there are drugs in the trunk and I didn’t put them there but shit, is that siren for me?–is the need to know.

Without that need, the words can just flow. Unedited. I parade that word around and when push comes to practice, damn, it can be hard. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it for no reason other than to come here and say: Not perfect. Not crafted. Not knock-it-out-of-the-park, not deeply insightful or particularly interesting even, just the steam valve of words that keeps the lid from exploding off the pot, like it did the other night when the water for Mani’s rice came to a boil, making me jump.

Life is happening. I don’t have to go out looking for it, nor am I committing some inadvertent illegal activity, even though I might be, well, speeding just a little. There are no illicit substances in the trunk, and there is no need to ruminate over things shared with pure intentions, and no terrible thing is lurking at the top of the stairs, and the glass may be full or empty–it doesn’t matter which, really, as long as you lift it with a little care.

That’s all I got. Enough or not.

2 thoughts on “World Maps, Drugs in the Trunk, and Life is Happening

  1. Pamela says:

    I needed this lesson in trust. Scott and I were going to meet up in Europe and now it looks like it won’t work and I am NOT trusting life. I needed this.Thank you. And lots of prayers of love and healing to Mani.

    As a side note, I was once in Mexico with marijuana in my glove compartment and I was stopped. The officer even had dogs but they didn’t discover my stash (although they did search my trunk). Another lesson in trust. Or maybe just getting really lucky. Xoxo


  2. hollybackgirl says:

    dearest j,
    this is simply a flashflight shining upon me tonight. thank you for this. thank you for jumping in (thank you, mani, for telling you to) and thank you for the snow that blanketed your babes today.
    i am so filled up with goodness about the fact that i get to read what you write.
    much love and endless admiration,



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