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.

Three Days

© 2011 David Parker

The truth? I flew to Idaho and back in three days to do a little housekeeping 2,500 miles from home.

There were pugs who jumped on top of tables to lick the cream out of my coffee and a boat that pushed through a thin layer of ice on the surface of the lake. In the middle of the lake was an island. On top of the island was a house with lots of windows full of people who don’t care if anyone sees them throwing rocks. In fact, they encourage you to throw your own rocks, or at least stop carrying them around, but no one casts the first stone. There was music that glittered with the water reflecting mountains dusted with snow. A child entrusted with a knife sat criss-cross-applesauce on the counter to help cut vegetables for dinner. Self reliance. Some kind of pasta with rabbit. A toast to me. To us! A world of plastic sea creatures, a sprawling spiral, on the child’s bedroom floor. Confidence that it is beautiful because she made it. Smiles. Hugs that don’t pull away. Affirmation.

An Invitation: You give away your anger, your only power, and trade it for a new one, a truer one, on the promise of a net that will appear only if you jump. But you know the net is there because of how you began.

Can you remember? When you were just barely a speck, a few cells glued together by your own spirit, glowing and warm inside of your mother’s belly? She doesn’t even know you’re there. But you know. And you are perfect. And your life holds nothing but promise. The universe adores you. You are a beautiful, beloved secret. Your world is a soft place filled with the faint sounds of your mothers laughter and the ins-and-outs of her breath when she’s sleeping. You remember. That’s not a question. You began there. We all have that in common. And your spirit, your cellular glue, has a voice that isn’t afraid because it hasn’t learned fear yet. This is mine. Hello.

In Remembrance of Snow Days

© 2010 David Parker

Holding a cup of coffee in my hands, I’m standing in the hallway to greet the students as they come in. As the girl with red ribbons braided into her hair hops through the door, her blue tu-tu flouncing around her, the warmth of my coffee mug feels like it’s coming from another time and place. The girl announces to the class that she’s dressed in red, white, and blue to celebrate the addition of a new ride at Six Flags called The Dare Devil Dive in the USA section of the park. As she describes the ride, the way it pulls you to the top, stops you, and then sends you hurtling down straight into the ground, I’m thinking that this ride sounds a lot like my re-entry into the classroom after so many snow days. And I’m thinking that my coffee and its heat in my hands is a piece of those snow days lingering the way good food smells linger in the house after I’ve prepared and devoured something especially yummy like grilled cheese with basil and tomato soup.

Thoughts on the Recursive. And Thank You.

© 2010 David Parker

Apparently, with no focal point (like a sun or a star or a you or a me), and with every intention to walk in a straight line, people walk around in circles. But, whether we’re blindfolded or just stumbling through the thick pitch of night, while we’re doing all of that wandering, we think we’re walking in a straight line. Without that external corrective, something inside of us, something about the way our atoms fit together, something about our biology, will not stay straight. I think part of what Souman’s study might reveal is that the human journey is not the shortest distance between two points. Rather, it seems to be the circle that connects one point back to itself.

This resonates with me. Maybe even validates my very existence. Because I do things, the same things, over and over, expecting different results. Someone once told me that this is the mark of insanity, but now I’m thinking maybe it’s the mark of humanity. Because don’t we all fall into patterns of behavior, patterns of thinking, rhythms of the everyday that are impossible to break? At least, they seem impossible to break. Especially without some kind of focal point like a person or a plan.

There are certain places in the geography of my life that I have been circling for the past five years–one of those places is the beginning of my teaching career. Another might be the day I met Ruthie. Another might be my divorce. Another might be the death of my grandfather. Another might be who I am in my family and who I am for real. And we all have these events, these anchors. Like the novelist Darin Strauss , who ran over a teenager when he was a just a teenager and wrote about it in fiction without knowing he was writing about it. (Now he’s finally written about it on purpose in a memoir called Half a Life.) And the only way that I’ve found to move past these events (or move through them the way one might move through a forest with trees thick as thieves and no light of day) is to write about them. With intention. The story of the event becomes my focal point, the external corrective to my inner recursive nature. And the sifting through those events reveals more and more of who I am. And that reveal is such a relief. Because for too long I’ve wandered around with these stories, these fragile stories, that I had to guard and protect and wear wrapped around my face. And now, here they are. Public and unapologetic: my stories.

And STORY is what carries us back to ourselves. Odysseus receives his ship home in return for a story. He tells a story in exchange for a ship that will (finally) take him back to where he came from, where his identity began. And I think it’s important that he tells his story. He doesn’t get the ship home in exchange for thinking of his story, but in exchange for sharing his story. And in telling my stories, I feel like I’m kind of giving myself back to myself. Owning not only the parts that are uncomfortable and awkward, but especially the parts that I’m proud of, the parts that were hard, the parts where I became. That ownership comes from sharing, and with each sharing, I’m peeling away pieces of my blindfold that hide me from my home.

All this is to say thank you. Thank you for reading and for watching me walk blindly in circles. I’d have no hope of home or a ship to carry me there were it not for your listening, allowing me to share. Just. Thank you.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

© 2010 David Parker

It’s taken me nearly 28 years, but I’ve finally learned how to be alone. It sounds simple, but I’ve found that simple things (sticking to a budget, having patience, sharing, being nice) can be the hardest to accomplish. Being alone is one of the trickier simple things for me because I haven’t had much practice with it. I had roommates from the time I left for college until I left grad school to have Ruthie, at which point I swapped my roommates for a husband. Now that it’s just me and Ruthie and a boyfriend who works often and out of town, I have a lot of alone time on my hands. Especially in the summer time.

Before the summer began I made a conscious decision NOT to fill the days with furtive trips out of town, major projects, work. I made NO plans (very uncomfortable for me). After two days at home with Ruthie, I realized that I hadn’t done this since I was on maternity leave, nearly five-freaking-years ago. It took some trying, but I finally learned how to relax into being by myself. This was all new to Ruthie too. When I came to get her out of time-out (on a rug in her room), she asked (in her excited voice with her eyebrows raised) if she might be allowed to play in her room. It struck me that Ruthie has also spent a great deal of time away from home. During the week she was at daycare, and I’ve always packed the weekends with “fun things to do.” And so this summer turned into a nice, wide stretch of time for Ruthie and I to learn how to entertain ourselves at home.

The thing about me is when I’m really enjoying myself, I have this overwhelming urge to share it with someone. Whenever I find myself becoming immersed in a moment–coffee on the front porch in the early morning before Ruthie wakes up, making dinner with music and a beer in my hand, eating a pretty breakfast of yogurt and granola with fruit, catching fireflies with Ruthie before bedtime–I always want to call someone. To make it real. I mean, if I have this beautiful moment, and only I witness it, then it’s like the proverbial tree in the forest. And isn’t that why we write, take pictures, talk? To preserve something the way we see it or the way we want to see it so that others can witness it as we did?

When you have a child, everyone says, “Write it down. You’ll forget all of this.” They say that because they’ve already forgotten. And the other night when I was putting Ruthie to bed, just after she fell asleep, I kissed her fat, smooth, perfect cheek and pressed my palm to her chest to feel her fluttery heart. Her mouth was kind of open and she was clutching her favorite stuffed animal: an elephant named Audge-A who smells like love. And I thought of how I so desperately wanted to preserve the moment because I’ll never have it back. It’s our job as parents to remember our children and how we loved them while they’re small because if we don’t remember it, no one will. No one will know Ruthie as she is now, at four years old. No one but me. And I’m going to miss so much about little Ruthie when she’s big. Like how she treats a glass of chocolate milk like a bottle, sucking it over the rim of the glass until it’s gone. Or how she will spend nearly an hour making shapes on the floor with bobby pins. And when Ruthie gets older, like when she’s a teenager, she’ll think I hate her. And it’s my job to give her little-self back to her when she’s older, through stories, pictures, my writing, the drawings she’s done, the videos I’ve taken with my phone.

So I call people when I’m alone and loving myself and my life and what I’m doing. Or I write about it. Or I take a picture of it. Or I sketch it miserably on a napkin. And it’s spectacular how little I have to record for the moment to come flooding back to me. For example:

Sleeps like superman

Ruthie: “I gotta show Mr. Bear what’s the deal”

Magic number: 113

David & Max come in from a walk–smell like dirt and leaves ground up between my fingers, like cinnamon and heat

I’ll see these in a month, in five years, and I won’t just remember, I re-live them as vignettes. These snippets become gorgeous talismans. Without them, those moments would be lost. Forever. And if no one remembers, it’s like it never happened. But if I record it, I can remember it, and share it, and it can be lived and re-lived by more than one person. Forever. And that’s publishing: putting something down and sharing it with others so that when the moment has passed, or when you have, your life is still there, pulsing in ink.