The Amber Moment

© 2011 David Parker

“Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.” [Kurt Vonnegut]

I’ve discovered that I am most present with what is not here. I am the kind of person who longs for. Who savors. Who stockpiles hotel keys, t-shirts left behind. Who, as a child, licked the bowl, the spoon, the bottom of the just-cooled skillet my grandmother used to make her chocolate icing. Who saves letters not for the words they contain but for the handwriting, for the hands that brushed the page.

I linger. I want everything, but especially this, to last. Preservation, proof, posterity: these are the things I write for.

I spent my teenage years and my early twenties fascinated by home videos and pictures of myself as a child. I seemed so quiet and so calm–not words I’d use to describe myself now. My favorite album was the one that contained images from the first weeks of my life–Mom in the hospital bed holding me with (strangely) a clown behind her, Dad with his socks pulled up balancing me on one arm (I was so small my head fit into the palm of his hand and he’d hold me out like you might hold a crystal ball), my granddaddy so young his hair was dark. Ruthie, too, is captivated by the video of her first days. We’re enthralled, I think, by the love we see our baby-selves receive. Now that I’m a parent, I know that as we grow, that love doesn’t diminish, but it does become less apparent as we become less dependent. And so maybe, what drives us back to those first days is a longing for something we’re not so sure about, a longing for what we miss.

Every time Ruthie leaves for the weekend, she comes home someone else. More precocious, taller with hair on her legs, smelling like grass and dirt, saying things like “Let’s just not talk about that” when we begin to disagree. She disagrees. Unafraid of worms, lizards, frogs, she fears apocalyptic things like earthquakes, floods, jellyfish in the bathtub. She tells secrets, has secrets, makes up stories for the books she can’t read yet. And every night I regret the words I failed to put on the page to preserve the person she was today, the questions she asked: Are we human?

And in 20 years, in a month, five days, tomorrow, I will miss this. Through my doorway, Ruthie strolls past eating cheese with her stuffed elephant. Lately, she has decided that it’s best to fall asleep holding hands with me. On the way to the grocery store the other day, she said she wished there was no gravity so we could float everywhere. I said I felt like floating takes too long–sometimes I want to go FAST. She thought for a moment and then decided, “Okay. I wish for gravity. But I also wish for wings.” And it occurred to me that wings are kind of a celebration of gravity–without gravity, flying isn’t special. The past and the present, living and writing, have the same kind of relationship to me–the one celebrating the other.

Us, the Most Fleeting of All

© 2010 David Parker

I like to measure time with my milk’s expiration dates. I start to get excited about things in my life when I buy a carton of milk that expires after the date of the thing I’m looking forward to. Buying organic milk means that I get excited about things nearly a month before they’re going to happen. So, today, I went to buy some milk and noticed that the expiration date is September 5 (two days after my 28th birthday). It’s finally here: my magical year!

I’ve been looking forward to 28 for a long time. I hated my early twenties because I felt like no one took me seriously. Now, I’m kind of thankful that they didn’t. My mid-twenties were full of change, change, change, and more change. From 24-26, I kept saying that next year would be predictable, constant, undramatic, maybe even boring. And I’m thankful that didn’t happen either.

But 27 has been a gritty, grace-less year for me. There were no short-cuts. I was spared no criticism, I had to ask for help, I discovered that I really have very little control over anything beyond myself, I became disenchanted. Despite its grit, 27 did bring me the best summer of my life, which I deserved and enjoyed. And 27 brought me to today, which, if you don’t count the poor decision to eat a taco from the school cafeteria, was a pretty good day.

What follows is the poem that opens The Time Traveler’s Wife. I just love it. That’s all.

Still Looking

© 2010 David Parker

All day today, I feel like I’ve just been swallowing stress. And I really tried to focus on happier things, but it just wouldn’t stick. Like this morning, after I dropped Ruthie off five minutes late, I did have a chance to appreciate the middle-school boy and his father both walking towards the school with back-packs on or the cross guard who high-fived every little kid who passed him crossing the street to the elementary school. The kids at school today were neat-o as usual for this bunch. They laugh easily and often, but not at each other. They willingly engage in discussions of symbolism and figurative language (two of my favorite things). But every little happy seemed to be accompanied by a burp of stress: the classwork already piled on the edges of my desk, the forgotten lunch, the parent conference that ran until I had to sprint to my car to pick up Ruthie on time. Even right now, Ruthie is singing in her bed, which is so sweet, but I’m a little panicky because it’s 9:00 and she really should be asleep if I’m going to wake her up with any amount of success in the morning. It feels whiney, but I can’t get away from wondering if this is really it. I’m beginning to think it is. And then I start thinking about Julia Child. For some reason, it always comes back to her and the fact that she was in her late forties before she got the acceptance letter for the publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a project that was borne of her own boredom in France. And I think, when does the part begin where I really, really love what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and who I am? When I’m not working for what I’ll have tomorrow, because what I have right now is what I want? The troubling piece of all of this for me is that I’m pretty sure that part begins with me.

It would be remiss if I didn’t mention one bright spot that squelched a hiccup of stress: public poetry. So when I’m not whining about how boring it is to be an adult, I’ll be working toward doing a bit of THIS with myself and my students. Another yawp-errrific idea brought to you by one Emma Bolden, the presiding Queen of the Power of Whatever and Poetry whom I miss terribly and often.

Also, I’ll be writing earlier tomorrow because I think there’s not enough of me left over this late at night to piece together a post. See you in the morning.