Thursday, November 09, 2006

Phone Thoughts

On the phone my mother describes to me how Carlos, a man who lives next door to her in a small white house that my sister owns, how he raked up her leaves in the backyard for her, but how he left them in twelve small piles and said he'd come back with a big garbage bag to carry them into the woods. "I told him how I usually do it," my mother says, "that it would just take a few minutes."

"You mean with a sheet?" I ask.

"Yes," says my mother, and I realize that I must have learned this from her for this is how I carry piles of leaves into the woods.

My mother continues. It is already dark and Carlos has not returned and now she's stuck with twelve piles of leaves and I can tell she wants to finish the job herself.

My mother lives in a small white house. On my walk this afternoon in the woods with Tamar who is a beautiful black dog I imagined writing the story of my mother's move into this house and how she lived there and what she did. And I'd leave the story -- typed and stapled -- in the house so that the next person who lives there will know the history, or some of it, of the place.

I lived in the little white house next door to my mother for six months, and I was remembering what it was like when I first looked at it and walked through its three rooms: the squalor, the children, the cockatiel crouching in his dirty cage, the toilet leaning to one side. Carlos who lives there now knows nothing of that past.

I was talking to Catherine today on the phone and she was saying how different it feels to live in a place that you own instead of rent. She just moved a week ago into a house she bought.

And I thought of when I moved into the small white house. I felt so powerful, like I had my own small kingdom for the first time. Today I was trying to remember that time, who I was then.

I didn't stay long, but my mother is still there. When we talk on the phone we usually cover these topics: what she is making for dinner, the people she works for, news from my sisters and father.

I talk very little when I am with anyone in my family.

"You're so private," my mother once said.

I just never feel so at ease with either of my parents or my two sisters. It has been that way for a very long time.

When I call my mother I ask her questions and I imagine her there in her small living room at the small table by the window where she eats just outside her kitchen. I imagine my mother sitting there with her white hair pinned up. I can imagine her routines pretty easily. She t ells me about her cat and about the little girl she takes care of and then I ask her if she's heard from my father. Last time I spoke with her I didn't ask about my sisters. It's almost as if I have a choice: whether to ask about my father or my sisters. I don't usually ask about both.

It is easier to ask about my dad because my two sisters used to be my friends and now we aren't friends. It used to be that my sisters and me and my mother were friends together. But I have broken off with my sisters and hear their news via my mother. And sometimes I get curious to hear their news. But I feel awkward asking because it is like bringing out into the foreground the fact that I am not much in touch with them myself.

I was wiping the stove with a sponge the other day and thinking how it's so strange, this thing with my sisters, how for years I really did pursue them as my friends and now I don't like them much.

I was much more different from them than I knew.

And when Fred was talking at the beginning of the workshop I was thinking about my own relationship to writing and the workshops, and I was thinking how that the core thorn that always needled me as I struggled all the time to have a life I liked was that I yearned for this thing called being an artist and how I loathed myself for wanting it and not being it and when Fred said something about how individual art is, I thought about my own process of writing during the last eight years that I've been part of the workshops, the time in my life when finally I have found a way not just to write but to keep writing -- I think I understood Tatiana when she said she writes, but somehow "it dies in the middle."

Anyway, all of this stuff makes me different from my sisters.

It's like way back when I was twenty-three and I was discovering yoga and meditation and mantras and gurus for the first time -- I thought my friends would embrace it as enthusiastically as I was. They didn't. Except my sisters did. And we went through yoga together for years -- well, except for the seven or so years when I broke with them, which is another story, but proves the point again that no story is striaghtforward.

Anyway, now that I have found a way into my writing world, my sisters can't follow.

As I sponged the stove I was thinking how I feel like the person I am now, the one who is not friends with my sisters, was there all along but she had no allies. I do not think my sisters have the kind of deep interest in this work -- this art, this process -- that I do. And though it feels strange to be going down a track that leads so far from them, I like it. It feels very real and solid and exciting.

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