Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Blog Has a Birthday!

So already, today is my husband's birthday. Twelve cupcakes, one for each letter of his name. 

On June 30, when I posted my last blog entry about watching Freedom Summer on the fiftieth anniversary of Freedom Summer, I noticed in the "Blog Archive" section on the right side of the page that I'd posted twenty-five entries in 2013, and another twenty-five already in 2014, the fiftieth being the one about Freedom Summer and the need to educate American students for both global competence and national competence. True, not every entry has been my writing--I've posted autobiographical pieces by my father-in-law Burk Ketcham and good friend Meg Anderson; a drawing by my now former student Elizabeth Chavez; and literary-personal essays by my now former students Klara Kaufman, Samuel Mazer, Rachel Ruwe, and Solomon Abrams.  But I've posted faithfully if not always confidently every month, and much of what comprises my blog are my own writings, random in many ways, linked in others.

Looking back at the beginning of my blog to remind myself of its precise beginnings, I saw that I posted for the first time on June 30, 2013. My introduction proclaimed my intention to blog hopefully--and I guess I have, even though confusion and doubt have nipped at my heels along the way. Meanwhile, the separated, repotted Christmas cactus plants that provided me with my initial metaphor for my constricted, pre-retirement self are now thriving. A long winter-spring season of budding and flowering, one that began tentatively but then exploded with magenta confidence, has led to definitive summer greening and leafing out. I haven't yet asserted myself with comparable purpose and force, but I just may. Presently, I feel neither constricted nor constructed. And, happily, I am feeling less anxious.

The Seine at Dusk from Île de la Cité
Interesting that the imminence of this blog milestone and its significance didn't at all occur to me until I traveled many miles to celebrate another milestone: the thirty-eighth anniversary of my college choir's European tour. My ten-day visit to France completely changed the focus and activity of my days--and in so doing, provided me with a new, needed, liberating perspective. My inner me not only didn't need the routines, commitments, and concerns of home to feel intact and whole, but seemed to revel and strengthen in their absence. Pleasure, friendship, music, and exploration motivated all. Since returning, I've been dreaming more and remembering my dreams. I've been reading with greater concentration and listening to music with more happy immersion. I now fully appreciate the wisdom of my retired colleagues who advised me to take a trip early in my retirement in order to create a real separation, a true delineation, between the old, familiar, and routine, and the new, experimental, and yet-to-unfold.

Meanwhile, among my fellow singers were some who already knew about and read my blog and others who, hearing about it for the first time, wanted to know how I'd come to start it, what it was about, how long I had been writing it, who I thought read it, etc.. As did all of us on the tour over the course of our reunion weekend, I had more than one opportunity to try to say who and what I was*, who and what I had been, what it was I was trying to do, and how all of it felt. As I spoke to my old singing friends, I realized that I had kept at my blog, had become more comfortable with writing what could be shared and read by almost anyone, and couldn't imagine my blog's not being varied and random in content at this point. That didn't mean that there weren't sensibilities, values, and purposes evident across its posts, the randomness of which felt authentic and necessary.

As I realized my blog was "something"--not just random posts, but a collection of random posts, I found myself thinking back to favorite stanzas of Louise Gluck's poem "Nest," found in her collection of poems called Vita Nova:

Early spring, late desolation.
The bird circled the bare yard making
efforts to survive
on what remained to it.
It had its task:
to imagine the future. Steadily flying around,
patiently bearing small twigs to the solitude
of the exposed tree in the steady coldness
of the outside world.
I had nothing to build with.
It was winter: I couldn't imagine
anything but the past. I couldn't even
imagine the past, if it came to that.
And I didn't know how I came here.
Everyone else much farther along.
I was back at the beginning
at a time in life we can't remember
The bird
collected twigs in the apple tree, relating
each addition to existing mass.
But when was there suddenly mass?**
I have always loved that the word "mass" is italicized here. Those italics lend a certain heft that exerts authority. And how do we build anything at all--deep understanding, sand castles, layer cakes, strong relationships, discernible personalities--without "relating/ each addition to the existing mass" until the construction becomes dense, weighty, and defined enough to have an integrity of its own?

In talking to my college friends, and hearing from other friends that they looked forward to reading my blog posts, I realized my blog had "mass," even if I couldn't discern or envision my future. But notice that I didn't say that I was struggling "to imagine the future." Somehow I'm feeling calmer; if this blog is my nest, I have a vantage point at least. 
A Village in Alsace
And as I peered out my mind grew sharper.
And I remember accurately
the sequence of my responses,
my eyes fixing on each thing
from the shelter of the hidden self: 

first I love it.
Then, I can use it.

More italics; more deliberate italics. For years, I've loved the last two-line stanza--and understood it very differently at different times. Tonight, I'm again not sure why Gluck has so ordered its two lines. But I am sure that my "hidden self" is going to keep blogging in my not-so-hidden blog. Happy birthday, "So Already . . ."!

* Screen shot of <http://meetville.com/images/quotes/Quotation-T-S-Eliot-life-illusion-time-Meetville-Quotes-104849.jpg>
** Screen shot of <http://lowerolentangyurbanarboretum.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/birds-nest-in-apple-tree.jpg>

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