“My grandmother knew what a painful life had taught her: success or failure, the truth of a life really has little to do with its quality. The quality in life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.
The reward for attention is always healing. What is healed, finally, is the pain that underlies all pain: the pain that we are all unutterably alone. More than anything else, attention is an act of connection.”
[Paying attention] “is a mixed grill of happy anticipation and dread. [Life] is a very bad match for us for those of us born extremely sensitive. It’s so hard and weird we sometimes wonder if we’ve been punked.”
— Ann Lamott
I’m reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. The 25th anniversary edition printed in 2016. My sister suggested it last year when homes across the globe were shuttered with locked doors. I resisted. “I’m already writing everyday,” I said. “I don’t think I have time for ‘morning pages.”
Handwriting three pages of stream-of-consciousness without taking my eyes off the page or lifting my pen seemed redundant to my already established practice. Of course it wasn’t, but I didn’t understand my habit to clump all work under one haughty umbrella was completely irrational, like boarding every animal in the zoo within a single enclosure.
Eventually I waded into the middle of the marsh, experimenting, my jeans rolled to my kneecaps, the oily earth squeezing between my toes like wet marshmallows. Sometimes this is a prerequisite for feeling the lush, symbiotic communities within the ecosystem of writing. With Morning Pages, I began to understand the differences in my writing pieces, and more importantly, I understood its usefulness.
Morning Pages serve as a total scribblescrabble, a get-out-of-jail-free card, before you put on your writing togs and get down to the nitty-gritty. (That’s writer humor if you didn’t catch it, because everything is scribble scrabble, despite putting a dress on it and polishing its patent leather shoes, before sending it on its way). Morning Pages is permission for the writer to dance like “Elaine,” before their rehearsal for Hamilton begins.
I’ve just begun writing Morning Pages. So far, they amount to recording tidbits of information with no other homestead available to breathe them into existence (they are unwanted elsewhere), and random suppositions searching for their missing reconciliations, which may or may not exist. Sometimes I use Morning Pages to be crabby and complain, about what a person did or didn’t do, what they said or didn’t say, brewing an extra pot of Pike’s Peak to fuel my cauldron of miscreantic soup. I write down what I didn’t say in that heated moment in the hallway that one time (all the time), hindsight’s stature questioned by the failure of its mute proxy.
When I let my recessive hand hold the pencil during Morning Pages, I swear a lot more than I generally do, which comes as a surprise, even to me. Leftover dreams linger near the pages like they can’t decide whether or not to put their quarter in the jukebox. Some do, some don’t. When I finally finish my three pages, I sigh and wave them away until the next morning, like Scarlett O’Hara bidding Rhett Butler adieu with her silk handkerchief bleached white, a momentary truce. I sing to them, “Run free little darlings!” as my derelicts bump and snarl, fighting for space.
When I was home in Texas two weeks ago, my siblings and I packed the first floor of our parents house after it flooded from a broken pipe. In total, we logged 35 man-power hours in a single day. We uncovered all kinds of mementos such as heirloom family photos cast on hard paper, like thin cardboard. The people looked familiar, but we didn’t know their names. We found old magazines, white debutante gloves up to the elbows my Mom wore as an adolescent. I couldn’t get them past my wave of knuckles. We found boxes by the dozen of model trains, old school photos of us, school letters and papers my siblings and I wrote in college, and art projects that spanned generations. I found all of my father’s acceptance letters, typewritten and carefully preserved. I found old mortgages and wills from descendants and homes long perished or forgotten. I found a leather-bound copy of Bleak House by Charles Dickens, inscribed on the inside cover, “To Aunt Mary and Uncle Douglas, Love Terry and Dick, Christmas 1962.” It would be another three years before my parents had their first child, my brother.
Susie said, “Hey. Look at this.”
She help up a large dark-blue thin book.
I leaned in searching the cover. “What is that? What does that say?”
“It’s Dad’s yearbook.”
“Nope. High school.”
I reached for the book taking it from her.
Peering at the bottom were raised letter.
I looked up with wide eyes.
“Does this say….CRACKER?”
The room was silent, but my brain was screaming against the echoes inside my skull.
“Yep,” she said.
“Are you kidding me?“
I looked her in the eye.
“Why does it say Cracker on the front?”
“I’m not sure.”
I crouched down on the weathered footstool, leafing through it. The book was created in 1955.
I turned the pages carefully. At some point in time, my father added yellow tabs to mark the important ones. I flipped to one and found an arrow written in pencil pointing to himself in the group photo: The Honor Society.
I chuckled at his lifelong penchant for labelling and organization.
Squinting at the black and white photo, I realised the arrow was helpful with identification. I thought to myself, “We sure do change with the decades. Why am I so surprised by this? No one escapes it, yet I am always so intrigued by time’s ability to transmute.”
“I think it is what they named their yearbook: Cracker.”
I looked up at my sister from the footstool, the yearbook’s insides filleted open, the spine resting in the seam of my thighs pressed together.
“So…Dad’s yearbook was called Cracker …
… and I have a blog called … Cracker???”
She smiled. “Yes, I think that’s right.”
My head exploded with all the well groomed postulations why even a solitary hint of serendipity was absurd, as tears made haste for the exit doors behind the curtain of my eyes, only to be painfully stopped, jammed in my throat.
Maybe it is only a coincidence, sixty-six years later, but considering two “Crackers” is wrought with emotion. Even now, the yearbook is a strange portal when held in my hands. Chalk the arbitrary synchrony to your own sensical explanation, because I have none, and will leave it as such. Some things are so extraordinary to define them is to diminish them.
Dad was involved in many activities, many of which no longer exist: Model Train Club; Glee Club; United Nations Club; Challenge Case Club; Usher Club; as well as Varsity Track and Varsity Cross-country.
The other day I asked my father, “So, Dad. How did you get to school?“
“Oh, I walked up this long hill and took the trolley car from there. That’s how we travelled anywhere because we didn’t have a car.”
“Well. what about after school, Dad? I noticed you had so many extracurricular activities. How did it work for you to get home? Did you take the trolley car then, too?”
“Well, when I ran track, we had to walk a couple miles to another school, since we didn’t have any of that [gymnasium, etc]. They had a track so we practiced there. It was usually late by then, so I would hitchhike home.”
“Seriously…You hitch-hiked to get home?”
“Oh yeah, we did it all the time,” he said nonchalantly.
“One time this guy put a hand on my leg. He started getting a little frisky, so I jumped out at the next light.”
“Oh my God, then what did you do?”
He chuckled and shrugged. “I caught another ride with someone else.”
Stepping into my father’s yearbook, seeing his aspiring adolescence poised behind his big brown eyes was intoxicating. While already successful, his self-assurance of the inevitable possibilities awaiting him stared back into my own face broken apart. He didn’t know where he was headed, but he was confident wherever it was would be good. He just knew. His classmates peered from the page just the same, the entire world laid before them.
It’s bittersweet these days to peel my parents away from their personhood, like carefully removing the skin of an orange to find the soft, vulnerable fruit underneath. Who were they before I, or my siblings, entered the world? All the stories we were told as children we adopted without question, cherishing the beginning chapters of our legacy as our natural rights into this membership. Familial stories carry tenacity and safety for any child. Who are we if we don’t have common stories belonging to each of us? Who doesn’t want to be pulled into the orbit of their parents’ sun, little emerging planets circling the source of their light, searching for our rightful place in the universe?
As I’ve grown older, I understand we are in constant orbit, our places within it always in flux. Sometimes it’s not as we thought, and other times it is and we are not ready for it. We haven’t prepared. We don’t always know and we can’t always be certain, but still we circle the sun. We do it for as long as the sun exists.
Post Script: I’ve been trying to link my WordPress account to my social media accounts, but I had to create a Facebook page seperate from my individual page. Then Facebook had a problem with the title “Cracker.” It suggested, “Unofficial: Cracker” as an alternative. Hmmm. Adding the word “unofficial” suggests an unsavoury propensity for rakish material and a lack of culpability for posting it. Facebook instead accepted “CrackSmack” as the new title of my Facebook page.
When you no longer see the page, CrackSmack, and find me manually adding Cracker to my individual Facebook page, you will know what happened.
It is just the name of a dog, after all.