On Home, Magic, Memory

By Catherine DiMercurio

Sometimes home is not what you think it is.

For a few of the many moments that I’m curled up in my bed but unable to sleep, I cast my thoughts outward, trying to capture as much of the world as my heart can hold in a breath, for that is all that I can handle of the chaos sometimes. It feels selfish not to try. I feel so immersed in layers of details involved in home buying and selling that I struggle to focus on life beyond those decisions. But in that effort of casting my awareness out beyond my experience, I suddenly remember fishing with my father when I was young, standing on the bank, watching the ease with which his line sang out over the river. I pull back, clumsy as ever, unable to mimic the grace it takes. I long to be bigger and better than myself sometimes.

time lapse photography of lake
Photo by Baskin Creative Studios on Pexels.com

We are told not to take for granted the things and people that make our lives feel full, rich, happy. I think about how often I say I love you and I wonder if I’m saying it as much to express the truth of it as I am to prove it to a cruel universe, as if a demonstration of love and gratitude can create a protective gloss around me and mine. I love you becomes an incantation to keep us safe and connected.

I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago when my arms were sore from painting. I moved from my desk, where I hunched and scrambled toward deadlines, to the basement where I poured white paint to neutralize my home for potential buyers. I thought I wouldn’t like it, but I do. It reminds me of that summer cottage I’ve always wanted, the white paint. I spend so much time scrolling through pictures of homes in another town, hoping one will feel a little bit like it could be mine, hoping that somehow in this world of wait and restriction and necessary cautions, I will be able to complete the necessary series of business transactions. A series of business transactions that, in a way, is the transfer of ownership of a thing from person to person, but is really the worldly calculus that frames the magical endowing of home to family. (It is a strange arrangement, but if you are lucky, as I am, you get to work with people who have an understanding of not just the business but the business of magic.)

I spent night after night in April falling asleep trying to write before bed. It was all fits and starts, no sense making, clumsy constructions of sentiments in random drafts. Sometimes my best work is the simple I love you, sung across rooms, tucked in a note of freshly folded laundry to be discovered later. Sometimes I feel as though I’m trying to inscribe home into every letter of a scrawled I love you.

I’ve been thinking about what home means, and now more than ever it is who, not where, and on the verge of moving I want my children to know that fact, more than ever. I want them to feel at home within themselves, I want them to know that all our lives we have to remake our ability to remake home. I want them to learn it so that it comes as readily and blindly as tying shoes. I want it to be easier for them. That is the first and most important layer of home.

The next is about the people you feel at home with, and about evolving into the idea that sometimes this will mean your family and sometimes it won’t. And that’s okay. Your idea of family expands and contracts, like a lung full of breath. But like a lung full of breath it has a rhythm, a cadence you can always find if you tune yourself in to it.

But it would be stubbornly naïve to pretend that home also wasn’t a physical place, and it’s okay to have a multitude of feelings about that place, feelings that might not always get on harmoniously with one another, just like family members sometimes don’t. It’s also okay for there to be an apparent dearth of feeling about a place. Sometimes we’ve spent them all, sometimes we will feel them later.

Sometimes years, decades, will pass, and we will suddenly remember standing on a riverbank with our father and we will remember an odd sense of home we forgot we had forgotten. Old magic. And we will realize again that what we thought was about a place really isn’t so much.

I think, too, of the brief vulnerabilities we allow ourselves when we are trying to be strong. I think of what being strong feels like, and how sometimes it doesn’t feel like trying, until we stop for a moment. Anxiety sneaks up sometimes like a soft rage of sorrow when I let my guard down. And sometimes it feels as though it is always there, like a soft flutter wings in the eves when you are lying in bed and hearing a bird take a little morning bath outside the window. It’s just there, letting you know the worrying is happening, but telling you don’t worry about it, it’s for a good cause. Learning to be at home with myself means trying to understand this.

Today definitely feels like spring, and with that sigh of air through the window, warm and a little damp and heavy with the scent of green, it’s a little easier today to feel hopeful and even content within the milieu of this moment.

Remember to protect yourself with whatever magic you can find, a memory, a feeling of home, an I love you.

Love, Cath

 

Love, Cath

On Patterns, Perspectives, and Puzzles

By Catherine DiMercurio

Sometimes context helps us puzzle things out and find the substance behind the charm.

On the last day before taking my daughter back to college, after her short holiday visit home, we sat at the dining room table, she and my son and I, putting together a puzzle. It was a 500-piece nature scene, quite beautiful and moderately complex, and we laughed and chatted and worked silently, falling into a peace so easily we forgot about the various things we’d bickered about here and there. Tucked away, too, were the few weightier conversations we’d had, and the brief but powerful emotional storms that sweep through a household sometimes, when new transitions are on everyone’s horizons.

In the course of those few hours that we worked, on and off, we found ourselves each selecting a favorite puzzle piece. I was particularly drawn to one of the few which contained a recognizable image, a little vignette, or so it seemed to me. I liked it. It seemed to make sense on its own, independent of the bigger picture it was a part of. So little of life is like that; it so often doesn’t bother to make sense at all.

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Speaking of bigger pictures, I often get the impression that my understanding of the “bigger picture” is flawed or misguided or not fully formed. But maybe, the problem is with the very notion of the bigger picture.

We blame our perception, our perspective, we question how our shortcomings keep us from seeing things clearly sometimes, keep us from understanding our lives, our place in the world. But maybe understanding is muddied because the thing we are trying to understand is a shifting, muddy thing itself.

It’s no wonder that we sometimes flounder, that we can’t grasp how all the pieces fit together, that we are at once puzzled, and puzzle.

The afternoon of the puzzle, I found it utterly impossible to snap puzzle pieces into place without becoming overwhelmed by metaphor and wonder. Sometimes I stared at pieces blankly while my brain scrambled up ideas about identity and purpose and meaning and connection and context. Sometimes I was amazed that we were able to fit any of the pieces together, particularly the ones that were part of a uniform background, the starry dawn sky, the rush of water over rocks. We hunted for pieces, each in our own way, seeking patterns in the shapes. I wondered what it would have been like to try and work that puzzle without the picture on the box as a map.

Life is built piece by piece without context, without a map. Instead, we fashion ideas of what it is supposed to look like, in general, and for us. We look for patterns, we seek partners. We create context. We are thirsty for shape, meaning, structure.

I think all of our endeavoring, this trying to see what fits together, is what connects us and binds us in a shifting world.

We create constants, foundations we hope will withstand the shifting muddiness.

When I look at the photo I took of that puzzle piece, I’m struck by how I romanticized the image. It’s a treetop. It appears to me now less like a self-contained scene, a story within a story, as it sits isolated against a dark background. Only in proximity to a sea of other puzzle pieces does the poetry of the little piece begin to hang together. You have to see it within the context of chaos to understand its clarity.

Throughout all of this reflection, which is so unlike an unmade puzzle itself, some things manage to become clear to me. I am growing comfortable with my tendency toward romanticizing things. It no longer seems a silly or naïve trait, now that I understand it within the larger context of myself. It used to be so much a part of me that I was unaware of it as a distinct characteristic but now, because I can usually see it, I can understand it is a part of me, but not so much so a part of me that I’m blind to its effects. That is to say, I do like to be charmed. I enjoy being able to see idealized versions of things, people. In a way, it is a gift. But, gradually, I have learned to see reality and substance more clearly, too. I have learned to see beyond and around charm more clearly now than I have been able to in the past, can more readily recognize, and subsequently respect, that which we call substance. This is not to say that I’ve perfected this move. Even a practiced self-awareness takes time to become a habit. But still.

When we begin to know ourselves more fully, the way the parts are related to the whole, it can be easier to make sense of things, and not just puzzle pieces.

For example, I recently began looking at houses, as I get ready to sell a house, buy a house, to move. I have been a bit afraid that my tendency toward romanticizing things, to be seduced by charm, would run amok. That my love of original glass doorknobs and built-ins and pretty little details would prevent me from seeing the enormous inconvenience of a too-small kitchen or cracks in a foundation. Happily though, while I did feel that swoonful delight in vintage details, I also witnessed myself being able to see the place as a whole – clearly – and to know it wasn’t right for me. (Happily, too, I find myself lovingly supported on this journey by someone who is not only charming – he has the best smile – but who is full of substance, and who is very much looking out for me. Thank you.)

To put it another way, that little puzzle piece, and my affection for it, make more sense when the piece is viewed not in isolation but within the context of the jumble of the unmade puzzle. Looking at it as a separate thing, I’ve wondered, why did it seem so significant? Sometimes trying to remember the sense we’ve made of something is as challenging as trying to remember song lyrics that we misheard the first time anyway.

But we can gain a new understanding of ourselves, and maybe even one another, through this effort of sense-seeking, even when the context is initially unclear. We recreate context when we return to the effort of the puzzle. And we can do the same in terms of our understanding of ourselves, of each other, of what connects us to one another.

It takes sustained effort, but we can and should create and recreate and build and strengthen the connections and foundations to withstand the muddiness of an ever-changing big picture. There is substance there, in that context and in those connections, and we should seek it, regardless of how dazzled we are by the charm in a detail — whether it be a puzzle piece, a vintage doorknob, or a warm smile.

Love, Cath

 

 

Shifting Gears: On Routines, Resetting, and Rediscovering

By Catherine DiMercurio

Sometimes we need to escape the safety net of our routines and go seeking.

For the past several years, I’ve written steadily—mostly daily—writing and revising and rewriting and re-revising my novel, writing short stories and flash fiction pieces, and creating posts for this blog. I’ve been submitting my fiction and hoping something finds a home someplace. I’ll keep pursuing publication for those pieces, and I’ll keep writing. But right now, I’m wondering, is it beneficial to take a little break? Or do I remain committed to my daily writing habit? How do we reset and revive a practice—whether it be running, writing, yoga, or any other behavior we pursue to energize us and keep us healthy and grounded?

I’ll be taking some time off from work for a vacation soon, so it seems like a natural point for some shift to occur. I typically don’t like breaking a routine, particularly one that I’ve worked so hard to build. I’m also the type of person who finds regular routines comforting. Of course, I need breaks, but after some of life’s hard knocks, the predictability of routines feels safe. I think it takes longer for a routine to feel dull to me than a similar routine might make other people feel.

grayscale photo of road
Photo by Jan Kroon on Pexels.com

The Open-Ended Possibilities of the Road Trip

My children and I will soon be road-tripping across the country, headed to see the redwoods in northern California. Days of travel followed by exploration and camping will be pretty far from the normal structure of my life—wake up, write, work out or run, go to work, come home, spend time with the family, maybe do some light housework or yard work, and sleep. During the school year, the routine gets a little crazier, but with my daughter headed off to college, my son and I will be finding new patterns, and making adjustments as we go along, trying, as they say, to find and establish a “new normal.” There is a lot of transitioning ahead for all of us, so this road trip is welcome, not just for the break it offers from work and routine, but for the opportunity it will provide us to enjoy each other’s company—without the stress of everyday life intruding—and to rediscover each other.

I’ve thought a lot about how I want to handle the disruption this trip will have on my writing practice. One option is to not write at all, to deliberately abstain and allow my experiences to soak in. On the other end of the spectrum is taking my laptop and continuing to write every day, fleshing out new ideas, working on the story that’s in progress, drafting new blog posts. The most likely scenario though is that I’ll take my new notebook. I’ll observe, jot down impressions and observations, journal a little. Nothing too ordered, but a conscious effort to capture what I’m feeling, what I’m seeing. Sometimes, a story will form under these conditions, sometimes a character will come to life, sometimes a few sentences will materialize full formed and become the heart of a new piece of fiction. I might not write every day, but I’ll watch and listen and absorb. My daily habit will be one of conscious noticing.

In Search Of . . .

Another aim I have for this trip, and one that will hopefully be aided by this conscious noticing, is to seek something that I’ve been missing: lightheartedness. Though I’ve always been a contemplative, sensitive, and serious person, I feel as though lightheartedness was not something that was merely accessible to me, but rather it was a part of me. It was simply there, within me, a characteristic of each heartbeat. My experiences of the past several years, it seems, have altered that part of me, have anchored me to something heavy and sore. And it’s time to shift gears, to cut myself loose from that weight.

I have had lighthearted moments, sometimes weeks and months in the past several years where it felt like something had been lifted. But there was something different about this fleeting lightheartedness compared to my previous way-of-being lightheartedness, sort of like the difference in density between store-bought, prepackaged cotton candy and the gauzy, spun-right-in-front-of-you, summer fair cotton candy.

“The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid.” — J. D. Salinger

Something about these differences reminds me of that line from a J. D. Salinger story (it is “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period” in Nine Stories, if you are curious): “The fact is always obvious much too late, but the most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid.” Maybe the transitory, fleeting lightheartedness I periodically experienced was joy—moments of joy that washed away. But I don’t think the solid-state happiness Salinger references and the way-of-being lightheartedness I’m seeking are the same thing. And I’m certainly not the type of person who expects to be happy all the time. I do, however, long for the type of lightheartedness that once inhabited me in a very real, solid way to once again take up permanent residence in my heart.

So, I’ll be away for a bit from these Chronicles, seeking, and noticing. But when I return I hope to have fresh insights and perspectives and stories to share with you.

Enjoy the road. I will be! Love, Cath