March 18, 1978
The thing about growing older is that you become more conscious of the flaws. The facades look good in the shade, when the light is low and the shadows blend together, but each step forward is a step into a clearer light. You start to see the shoddy workmanship, the exposed beams, the rough woodwork. What you thought was a stone pillar is only plaster and peeling paint. And you curse yourself for your blindness, and try to fool yourself that what you see is wrong, because it can’t be, can’t be. The bedrock is really mud and you’ve been walking on it this whole time without knowing the difference.
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written anything that feels propulsive or has captured my attention. I do tend to meander after finishing a novel… picking up ideas, examining, discarding. As Springsteen said, I’m just tired and bored with myself. That’s just the way it works. Novels are exhausting and consuming. So it’s difficult and stressful to start the process again. But when the right idea shows up, it’s worth it.
I never know where the ideas come from, but I’m grateful for them. They’re never the shiny things. They’re more like half-buried pennies that I keep stepping over in search of something more dazzling. Discovering a character’s voice that infiltrates my thoughts, an image that won’t go away.
Yep. There it is.
And so I’ve been writing. And now it’s rolling downhill. With Ordinary Handsome, the image was a boy travelling down a dark road. With A Very Tall Summer, it was a woman in an isolated cornfield. With this new one (currently untitled, but I’m thinking “Elani”), the image is a brother and sister beside a muddy stream. And that’s all I can say about that. I dream about it, it’s become that clear. And it feels like I’ll be working on it for quite a while… it feels really big. I won’t jinx it by saying more.
A big ‘thank you’ to those who follow my little blog. Most of my posts lately have been working on my voice… challenging myself to write with a little more depth, and the feedback has been wonderful. So thank you, thank you, thank you!
Back to work. The kids are calling on me to keep going. Cheers, and have a great week!
There was a wide slab of sunlight on the bedroom wall when Efrim woke up, bright as freshly rolled paint. Dust motes like wayward stars, drifting constellations, and the morning was silent. That wasn’t right. He looked at the clock — it was already past eight — and realized the morning was different. The sunshine wasn’t different, or the dust, or the bedsheets, or the walls. Everything was different. It was a feeling of loneliness, not just the aloneness of stumbling out of a deep sleep. He was used to alone, the solitude in his head when things felt hurried or loud. Loneliness was something else entire, of being isolated and invisible, a quietness that drown everything out, even the good sounds like Elani’s laughter, or the wind pouring through the eaves in a storm, or the hiss of steam coming from the kettle. They were good sounds, with heft and meaning. The absence of sound was scary because it felt permanent, like a white sheet that covered everything. It was a part of who he was, and he knew it would be the man he would become. He would make peace with it as best as he could, but it felt harder when he woke up, when everything in him was soft and vulnerable. It was easy to imagine a landscape filled with nothing but himself, shuffling in the blank loneliness, searching for something to anchor him.
He heard Elani, outside, laughing, and the loneliness drifted away like the dust motes: scattered and shapeless. He knew that she was his anchor, and his heart was lighter.
crayon colors smudged,
grudgingly upon the page, carousel thumbprints blurred,
swirled hocus pocus, unfocused,
honey locust picked and faded and shaded nonsense,
within these blessed messes and indiscretions. Lurid
colors smudged like neon bulbs upon a pencil world.
An older photo from a couple of summers ago. Because it’s February and it’s gray and the wind has been relentless all week. Because we all need a little fire in February. Cheers!
The silence returned, deep. He thought of the stillness as tidal, a recurring wave that smothered everything: his breath, his heartbeat, all the known geography of his thoughts. He could feel it submerge him, and he welcomed it. He wanted the no-sound to fill him so that nothing else could threaten, or matter.
She thought the silence was elastic, likely to snap and knock things over. It stretched for a short time before the strain was too great and it crumpled to its natural shape. Loudness was a way of life, and the quiet was tenuous, meant to be broken. It was necessary to fill in the blank spaces, fill it with something, anything: a cough, a hum, or a knock-knock joke, anything to fill in the blankness. Too much silence, and it collapsed, into anger or violence.
They departed in their understanding of silence; he welcomed it, she feared it. They intuited the other was different, but did not speak of it. Without her, he would drown; without him, she would suffocate in a babble of noise.
They huddled in the farthest reach of the yard. A barbed wire fence sagged behind them, tangled with cockleburs, burst like piñatas. There was a rust-patched swing set in the middle of the lawn, all odd angles and sharp edges, and beside it, a decaying sandbox, a placeholder for Tonka trucks and an old Barbie, its plastic scalp gushing nylon hair. A blob of sunshine painted the trees from the street, casting lazy light upon the lawn, already brown from neglect.
“I wish we had a pond,” said Elani. “We could make paper boats.”
There was a spurious coldness around them, familiar. She rubbed her hands against her jeans and shivered.
“They’re not hard to make,” said Efrim. “I guess we could do that later, after chores. When Daddy….” He didn’t finish. When Daddy left to be with his friends, or whatever it was he did. Efrim never saw any of his father’s friends. None ever visited or telephoned, and Eldridge never talked about them. Daddy did things that were grown-up and private, and he always came home angry. Sometimes he just stayed that way. It usually started on Saturdays, and the degrees of anger were unpredictable. The cold space around Efrim and Elani brought them together; sometimes, it was their only warmth.
A deep rumble from the house, his voice, escalating. Some sounds were curses, some just incoherent noise, overflowing agitation. And Mama, backing into another room, or the kitchen counter, arms already protecting herself, unsure if she should cover her ears or her belly. It was the old familiar, and though Elani had been spared the worst of it, Eldridge’s voice was a haunting fury that followed them both every day, in everything they did and did not do.