She sat right in front of me, in the first row, as it were, and I called her by name, the wrong name. She looked at me. She said, “Who?” And I thought, and maybe I said out loud, “Oh my god.” And even while I knew it was the wrong name, for the life of me, I could not remember the correct one. She took it in stride, even laughed about it, which, of course, set me a little bit at ease. Other students in the room, though, a couple of dudes, thought they’d have a little fun with their teacher by pressing him for the right name. “What’s her name, Jarmer?” To be sure, an asshole move. But still, her name would not come. One of my boys, when the girl stepped out to use the restroom or for some other business, kindly whispered the name to me. There it was. The name I knew but for some reason in those moments could not recall. One worries about the mind. And one makes up explanations for the lapse. She does not look like, exactly, but shares some of the characteristics of the girl in my other class whose name I called her. Yeah, that’s it. Or I was tired this morning (true). Or I was flustered that so few students were prepared with the reading done (true). Or I was further stymied by the boys who decided in that moment to be cruel to their teacher, and maybe to a degree, to the girl whose name I had forgotten (true). No matter. Whether the mind is faltering or not, whether it was just one of those things or not, and while no real harm was done, it still is, and I confessed this to all of them, one of a teacher’s worst nightmares to forget the name of a student three months into the semester.
To Whom It May Concern
Wherever You Are
City, State, Zip Code
Hello to Whom,
I think this may concern you. I’ve been thinking about you, lately more than usual, I guess, ever since the weather turned. There’s been a disturbance. It’s been too long. That thing people say on postcards: I wish you were here. It’s a true statement. The trees are beautiful and the water is fine. The food is super edible and you should see the horses, all the pretty horses. Goats too. And too many boats to count. Too many boats and goats. Mares eat oats and goats eat oats and little lambs. I’ve always felt sad about that. Hope you are well and that someday you return to us in your customary way–because we like your customary way. Please write. Send words. xoxoxo
Unseasonably warm on this 26th of April, 86° in the shade, giving new meaning to “the cruelest month” moniker, and I’m biking home from work, still in work clothes, feeling myself try to crawl out of them, the sun beating down on my back as I pedal home. It’s a short ride, but long enough. My heart beats a little faster than it normally does as I pedal into the drive. I put the bike away, drink a tall glass of sparkling water with a tinge of lemon and let the dogs outside. They run in circles, bite at each other, eat sticks and clods, dig holes in the rich spring dirt, bark at nothing. She sends me a text: a picture of these blue bird feathers she found today in the sawdust, a poetry prompt, she said. Spring time carnage. I’d forgotten to tell her about yesterday’s discovery in the gravel driveway: a decapitated bird head, covered with flies, still attached to a spine four or five inches long. Nothing else left. I didn’t take a picture of that. Too small to smell the rot, but as I scoop it up with the shovel, a memory of the smell of animal death visits briefly, and I toss the thing unceremoniously into the trash. It’s difficult and kind of terrifying to imagine what must have happened while no one was looking. A neighborhood cat maybe, or those damn crows, too smart for their own good, they say. Everything blooms. Everything dies. Look at these bluebells cropping up like weeds, these pink things, these sweet, spicy lilac flowers. Smell the sawdust in your fingers as you pick through in your gloves to remove the dead bird feathers. And today, and yesterday, Wordsworth and Shelley both sang “Mutability” to my 10th graders. They understood.
Q: Hey kids, what’s the point of view in this here novel? You know, who speaks and to whom are they speaking?
A: Well, Walton, he’s the speaker, and he’s writing letters to his sister. But at some point, Victor is speaking to Walton who is writing letters to his sister, but then, Elizabeth is speaking through a letter to Victor who is speaking to Walton who is writing letters to his sister, and then, at another point, Victor’s father Alphonse is speaking through a letter to Victor who is speaking to Walton who is writing letters to his sister, and then, still later, the monster is speaking to Victor who is relaying all of this to Walton who is writing letters to his sister. And Victor, of course, has a photographic memory, not a detail is omitted; and Walton, obviously, has serious-mad dictation skills, doesn’t miss a single beat in those letters to his sister.
I did not eat a single piece of candy. Boy, that orange was tasty.
This is a special kind of torture. On day 13 of my Whole 30 regimen, as I have sworn off alcohol, grains, beans of any kind, dairy of all sorts, cheese of all stripes, all things artificial, AND sugar,
our workshop facilitator today puts a pile of candy in front of me as a writing prompt. I think Hell would be kind of like this: you are faced with and then have to write about all the things that you love, but for some inexplicable reason, cannot have.
I am about to begin my journey home. Almost everything is put away and the trailer is hitched up (I never did unhitch); all I have to do now is climb in and start up the engine. It was a good trip. Even though I was with my brother and his friends, I spent a lot of time by myself. I read some and I wrote some and I listened to music and I walked and I rode my bike. I took in the good Willamette Valley air under cover of giant oaks, just like ours, but older and over miles and miles. Last night it was so clear; the stars were lovely and David and I kept the fire going until 10 or so. I slept well and ate well and it was easy to be good. I have some Easter surprises for both of you that I hope you will like.
Just before I leave I am thinking about how grateful I am for both of you, and how thankful I am that you both were willing to (maybe even happy to) have me out of the house, let me do my thing, allow me this space to travel both outward and inward. I love you both. I am enriched beyond words having the two of you in my life, challenging me and growing me toward this hidden wholeness.
Somewhere between asceticism and an orgy of consumerism and excess lies the middle way. I must confess I have not found it yet. I tend to waffle in my struggle to find the center. Against my better judgment I tend to err toward excess. Here I am camping in comparative luxury with my new trailer and my new truck, and yet I am abstaining from alcohol, sugar, carbs, grains, dairy, beans, any thing artificial or processed. I continue to meditate daily. I fantasize about tiny houses. Living more simply. After seeing the film “Minimalism,” I have thought about whether I could reduce my closet down to 30 pieces of clothing, including socks, underwear, pants, shirts, shorts, and coats. I keep doing the math. It doesn’t add up. I must keep my disco pants and my disco shorts and my disco hoodie and my disco bowtie. That’s four. There are things too difficult to give up. And that’s the project, isn’t it? What can you live without? What’s necessary? Who do you love? Do they know? What hurts? What helps? Are you prepared to find the center out and hold on loosely, loosely, but for dear life? Beckett: We try, fail, fail again, fail better. I’m failing my way toward the middle.