April 2016

I wake up in an airbnb near Sarah Lawrence College, shower in a bathroom with a scar on the wall where the original toilet paper dispenser  fell off, where duct tape covers a gap between floor tile and wall tile. My son and I have slept in a bedroom with outdated white furniture with curlicue hardware and when I look at the wall, after making us tea and gathering croissants from a lovely spread laid out in a kitchen overlooking a yard with three broken down cars and a crumbling terra cotta planter, minimal grass, I find on the wall of the bedroom a diploma from Columbia, written in Latin, with the name of a woman I can only imagine is the daughter of the couple hosting us. long gone, though her debt no doubt lingers in the house with the collapsed porch roof, with roller marks stopping partway up the wall over the stairs, where imagine the owners stopped being able to reach, and I wonder if they knew about roller extenders, life savers for all painters, could they be unknown to this pair of highly educated airbnb owners?

We cancelled reservations at the Radisson, then at the Hampton Inn. Last time we had stayed at the Hyatt Place, placed finely in the midst of the Cross Town Mall parking lot, had breakfast in their lobby with young families eager to try out the waffles. Today we wake up overlooking the highway, having been shown to our rooms by the hostess while her husband napped in a living room chair near midnight.

I am happy that we did. There is nothing like visiting a very expensive college to which you imagine your son might be well suited, after talking with him in the car about your shared love of work and the possible work study options, to remind you of your place in the world. There are those that can have this and there are those that cannot. There are also those who want it and push themselves too hard and end up buried under crushing debt. I hope we will make a good choice. Yesterday we were washed in a sea of families touring UMass, had a lovely lunch with my nephew who studies and seems to be thriving there. Saturday we spent the day at Clark, a school which floored us both by both offering us a day to spend with lifelong friends, who happened to be standing in the lobby when we arrived, and by telling the whole auditorium of accepted students and their families about a fine applicant who had attended an alternative school and written his essay about how he tried to make sure everyone in the School Meeting got a voice, and who also works and performs at Improv Boston. That is my boy, who also happened to be wearing his Improv Boston hat, having performed the night before and worked till one am, and overslept so that we arrived late. Since my boy isn’t a big shot type, he pocketed his hat, went undercover, and very much enjoyed the day.

We don’t know which place he’ll end up. Last weekend was Emerson, a showboat of a place for those interested in theater and film. Next Monday would be Hampshire, if we make it that far and can find a way to lower the price tag. It’s a process I’m glad to be doing with my boy, also exhausting and hard to negotiate without some cash. Even the folks at UMass looked relatively well heeled. We imagined as we all strove to hear from the tour guide who was not able to project over the crowd where we should go next that others are looking at community colleges, at smaller state colleges. We had been to UMass Boston. The range is quite enormous. Friends’ kids are at posher places, Harvard, Tufts, Cornell. We are here, now, wondering where my boy will find his home. As his mom, I’m both heartened and frightened to be doing so from someone else’s modestly maintained home, having talked with my boy about the fact that if he wants to come to Sarah Lawrence I’ll find a way to rent rooms to cover some of the cost. This could be my future, too!

I wake up this morning with the sun shining, the birds singing, and Nikki Giovanni in my mind, from the podcast I listened to last night, while I went over and over the calendar and schedule from now until September, on paper, online, every which way but done. What Nikki said somewhere in the edited or unedited version of the On Being podcast, Sex, Soul Food, and Space, (http://www.onbeing.org/program/nikki-giovanni-soul-food-sex-and-space/8501), was that as she gets older, she doesn’t want to give up her eight o’clock class because it is so fresh, because she and her students are all fresh from their dreams, which reminds me this morning how true that is, as I have woken up fresh from my dreams the last two mornings, alone in my house to mull them over, and I am also reminded that for much of the last seven years I woke fresh from my dreams to write here, which is how I got to write the nearly twelve hundred blog posts I’ve published and the nearly one hundred drafts that are counted in my stats, how I got to a place where those blog posts have been read by many thousands of readers, or at least clicked upon. That didn’t happen by being married, or by living in a house with roommates, or even by living with my children full time. Much of that writing came out of a place of not knowing what else to do when I was lost and sometimes afraid. Much of it came when I woke up or ended the work day or began the weekend alone, some part of me thinking what the hell am I doing here, this cannot be my life, and some part of me listening to the unknowable inside. When we get really stuck, this is what we do. Nikki Giovanni said something else in her podcast which comes back to me this morning. She talks about her love of space as connected to her people’s ability to start again in America after the Middle Passage. She tells Krista Tippet she is interested in the fact that the slaves arrived here sane, that they were able to adapt to the new religion of Christianity and to create gospel music, that they were able to use that new religion, to incorporate it into music and soothe their souls during a time of terrible hardship. Amen, I think, Amen to that. They survived. They did not go insane. That is something to talk about. She also talks about how Christians so often use the symbol of the cross when they could be looking into the manger to remind themselves of the suffering and love women bring to this world, of the importance of that, which reminds me this morning just before eight, just before I commit to write here, that Nikki Giovanni was the first poet I connected with in my life, that my sister turned me on to her when we were both in college, and now I can imagine why. She is a woman of spunk, Nikki Giovanni, and so is my sister, and she has a famous poem she shared in part last night, Nikki Giovanni, about her childhood and how people might only think of the hard parts, when in fact there was so much love, and I suppose people could say that my sister and I lost our father, so therefore we must have had hard childhoods, but what is true is that we did and we didn’t, and that yes, like in Nikki Giovanni’s story, there was so much love, which Nikki also talks about in reference to divorce,that she has friends who were divorced and they say what a mistake it was to be married, and she says, well, you had ten years together (in my case over twenty), you had children (oh, yes, I did, and I thanked my ex-husband for them dearly just this Monday on what I realized after sending the e-mail was his fiftieth birthday, and I realize now we’ve been on a path together since twenty one, together and apart twenty nine years, which is a whole lot of life, good and bad and in between), and so I wake up this morning grateful for that podcast of Nikki’s keeping me from going down last night, and for the phone call from my mom, who read my blog post about my being alone and called before heading out to her evening with longterm friends, to talk with me about her own experience of divorce and living alone, and so I realize this morning we both define ourselves as single, even though we both have long term partners, that my use of that word for myself, which seems strange at times and right at times, feels right to her, too. I’m not married, she says, which is as it is for me. On all the forms, in all the categories we  are given to define ourselves at mid-life, single is the one that most often fits. It doesn’t mean I’m not in a relationship, but legally, as society defines me, I am single, and I think about how that label and it’s fitting and not fitting is working on me and I wonder if I can or need to change it and what it means to me and to the world.  I also think this morning about a poem I read yesterday, which was so timely, as the poems in Writer’s Almanac so often are for me, as it told of a father of a child of twenty and how that child is growing up but still connected and how deep that father’s love is for his child, and how it is his life force, and on a day when I was returning to a quiet house from a weekend on the road visiting Emerson College with my nineteen year old son and watching college ultimate frisbee where my twenty one year old son was playing, and happy to drive sixteen hours, much of it in bad weather, to be with those boys and in their worlds, and also in my boyfriend’s in Northampton, and in my own, with a stop in between at  a fine establishment, named aptly for this piece, the Dreamaway Lodge, the poem felt just right, and as my boyfriend and I plan the next several months around our five lovely kids, and try to sort out our own lives,too, together, apart, with them, without them, the poem felt just right to him, too, that love and devotion to our children is something we share, and that is something worth celebrating in a poem, so here is Richard Locklin’s for you, and now I must start the day, as day care calls, single working mom whose children and lover are elsewhere is off to start her day. Enjoy!
No Longer A Teenager
by Gerald Locklin

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my daughter, who turns twenty tomorrow,
has become truly independent.
she doesn’t need her father to help her
deal with the bureaucracies of schools,
hmo’s, insurance, the dmv.
she is quite capable of handling
landlords, bosses, and auto repair shops.
also boyfriends and roommates.
and her mother.

frankly it’s been a big relief.
the teenage years were often stressful.
sometimes, though, i feel a little useless.

but when she drove down from northern California
to visit us for a couple of days,
she came through the door with the
biggest, warmest hug in the world for me.
and when we all went out for lunch,
she said, affecting a little girl’s voice,
“i’m going to sit next to my daddy,”
and she did, and slid over close to me
so i could put my arm around her shoulder
until the food arrived.

i’ve been keeping busy since she’s been gone,
mainly with my teaching and writing,
a little travel connected with both,
but i realized now how long it had been
since i had felt deep emotion.

when she left i said, simply,
“i love you,”
and she replied, quietly,
“i love you too.”
you know it isn’t always easy for
a twenty-year-old to say that;
it isn’t always easy for a father.

literature and opera are full of
characters who die for love:
i stay alive for her.
“No Longer A Teenager” by Gerald Locklin from The Life Force Poems. © Water Row Books, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)