On the coldest morning of the season, when the day dawns just above zero and the expected high is only 5 degrees; on the same day when the windchill will plunge to the minus double digits, and I’ll drive home through pockets of swirling snow […]
A reader recently called Rough Beauty—a fairy tale. She was not being kind. At first I laughed. Anyone who knows me knows I am no princess; not once have I been a damsel in distress. The course of my life has been a dirty mess, traversing the scarred landscape of family and fire, the misery of isolation and working too much for too little. I could go on, but you get the picture.
And yet, I’ve had the kind of year that you get in story books: I published my first book to critical acclaim and I bought my very first house—a real beauty on an acre and a half of land where I wake every morning to a tree-house view of the forest through French doors in the bedroom. That I never thought either event was possible makes 2018 sparkle with fairy dust. And I recently agreed to marry Greg in the 7th year of our courtship. This small thunderbolt arrived in the most unexpected way, as we were hiking a new trail near Rollins Pass, and for the third time this year, my landscape shifted. I can’t decide if the fact that these firsts have come now—when I am in my fifth decade—makes the tale more saccharine or sweet, but it does write the not so traditional nature of my life large.
Lately, I’ve been mindful of the late summer blooms, counting every sip of color, each delicate petal—savoring the last of the season. And so it is as I watch the course of my days, as I seem to be coming into the kinds of things we call milestones rather belatedly. I recently read Rick Bass’ memoir The Traveling Feast in which the writer, now sixty and ending his long marriage, wonders how many more books he might be able to write, and, I think, if he will ever love again. Does he have either in him? is the subtext of what is a beautiful but mournful book. My trajectory is almost the opposite of Bass’, a writer whose first publication came early and in The Paris Review, whose champions were Gordon Lish and George Plimpton. Just like the aster, which doesn’t imagine itself tardy to the riot of summer; growing instead according to its own sense of season and instinct, I try not to be bothered by time or the question of what I’ve been doing all these years.
Clearly, mine is the tale of the late bloomer, written about most poignantly in the last lines of Sylvia Plath poem, “Poppies in October”:
Oh my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a field of frost in a dawn of cornflowers.
The circumstances of our lives are made more beautiful by context and timing. Here, Plath finds the astonishing—made even more so—out of season and surrounded by death. That my life has burst forth with so much now is a kind of miracle. But that doesn’t make it mythic. No one’s life is easy—it only seems so from the outside looking in. What’s true is The Story is Ours. And like the poppies in Plath’s poem, it can be “a gift/a love gift” if we’re willing to see it for what it is, if we have the guts to tell the tale.
Join me for From From Memory to Memoir, a 4-week class at The Light House North beginning September 11th.
August in the mountains and I can feel summer begin to ebb. At the prairie house, I‘d be staring down the barrel of at least two more months of way-too-hot-for-me weather, while nearly 4000 feet higher this morning’s temperature registered in the upper 40s. Already […]
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush
—Gerard Manley Hopkins
Spring is doing its spring thing here in Colorado, which means warm days when I don skirts and show off my winter-white legs followed by snow and temperatures in the 20s. This morning, I woke to the grey of January and ice covering newly greened grass. Just a week ago, in the Valley of the Gods, Utah, on the very last day of March, I was so hot, I crouched with my dog River in the shade cast by the truck. That night, Greg and I slept with the tent windows wide open to the full moon. Spring in the Rockies is a fits and starts thing—no gentle bloom for us, no building to a glorious explosion of green. Instead one day I’ll see hopeful buds on lilacs and the next they’ll be encased in ice and I’ll know the waiting—for flowers and the breathless greening of the foothills, along with consistently warmer days–has begun.
Up on the mountain, spring was always a shy, elusive creature. I was never sure I was out of the winter woods until the first week of June. Until then, anything could (and did) happen: hummingbirds chipping through an inch of ice at the feeders in May, me scrounging for wood for the stove to take the chill off even later. But last year, the prairie, where I’m a temporary resident, had its own form of high altitude spring as a foot of snow fell mid-May and Greg rushed out to cover pea vines along with our patches of rhubarb and strawberries, spinach and radishes.
This year the wait has real weight as I hold my breath for June 5th when #RoughBeauty debuts. Writers are forever talking about how flat out hard it is to write and edit a book—how fraught, how onerous–but I’m currently of the mind that the year and a half I spent writing and rewriting was nothing compared to the six months of question marks and “what ifs?” running up to release as my thoughts pop like corn anticipating blurbs, buzz, and reviews. I waited ten long years to get this book out, but now–I want it out.
With roughly seven weeks to go and spring nowhere in sight, I’ve started my annual cleanse—three weeks of vegetable-forward food and twice daily doses of detox tea. My motto? Make it harder. I’ve never been the kind of person who hides from anxiety in a bottle or even in bed; instead I give myself something to put my shoulder against. So while I’m waiting for things to “shoot long and lovely and lush” in the landscapes of both spring and publication, I am distracting myself with the somewhat difficult task of trying to take as much pleasure in “power fruit smoothies” and sprouted grain tostadas as I do with duck breast laced with blueberry balsamic glaze served with a glass of bubbly. By the end of three weeks—and almost half way from here to my pub date—I’ll have shaved off a bit of the wait and lost a few pounds too.