Sitting in the Dark

One evening in July somewhere in Maine, my spouse wouldn’t wait until morning to look at the creaking, shuddering, fan/light assembly hanging over the dining room table and he turned off the electricity.  Now our dining room was too hot to sit in, and our aging brown wicker-patterned friend–its perpetual summer circling arrested–needed some tinkering with. Actually, I got my valiant spouseto turn the whole house’s electricity off so he wouldn’t hurt himself; he often rushes into the home maintenance jobs he loves because he has so little time after commuting and working.  Not endowed with feline vision, I decided to stay out of the way and seize the opportunity for a bit of rest.  Lying on the sofa during our own little load-shedding (the term used in India for when the electricity goes off for a while because the supply cannot keep up with the demand) with my head towards the big living room window framing the fluttery tree, I noticed the pink edge of the sky you don’t see in our tree-laden suburban neighborhood unless you’re outside walking.  It came back to me that during my childhood in the arid little town of Hijli, in West Bengal not far from the Bihar border, my parents would let twilight grow through the house most evenings.  They wouldn’t turn the lights on right away, just to enjoy the gradual fading and displacement of the harsh sunlight of the day.  We would sit on the veranda or in the living room and just let it get darker and darker, chatting or playing.  Our street of small university houses was still surrounded by grazing fields for cows and goats and a palpable stock of uncanny quiet.  A car or jeep might go by once a week, and most movement was by foot, bicycle or cycle-rickshaw.  In the evening, the voices of passersby–families strolling together, or friends in ones and twos hailing us from the front gate–carried into the veranda of our little cement house with the smooth floors, or through the wide open living room windows, long before we could see them clearly.

This sitting around in the twilight was a less self-conscious form of relaxation than the fun activities we pitch ourselves into these days—bike rides, bookstore browses, and so on—because we are so aware of needing them.  When the lights finally came on in our Hijli house, it would have been for a 9 o clock supper, and it was always a blazing shock after the softening into the dark our eyes had enjoyed.  The idea then was to stay awake until the rice of our late meal was eaten, but I was a slow child, and mine would always get cold.

(July 2011/September 2012)


I Hate This Notebook

(revised from an earlier, secret, blog)

I hate this notebook. It’s fat, almost 2 inches thick. A little brown brick of paper and temptingly leathery binding material.  The first time I saw it in a big chain bookstore, in the self-indulgent “Journals & Blank Books” aisle, the price was marked at $10.  Our baby was new and we weren’t spending much on ourselves since I was staying home–with no salary–to look after her; I fondled the notebook, and thought, you could travel months without having to buy a new journal, you could go and go and go, if you had THIS.  500 pages!  Cool quadrille, like the paper my German friends cover with their spidery handwriting.  Never mind that I wasn’t going on any solo trips any time soon, and hardly had the chance to take a shower or comb my hair, let alone write 500 pages.  The most writing I had managed so far—and I felt gleeful about that–was sending emails with the baby on my shoulder.

Several years later, when the baby had become a child, I spied the same notebook, this time wrapped in cellophane, in another big chain bookstore, in another state far away; I thought, ok, this will be my souvenir from this road trip–notebooks often are, along with a couple of postcards I buy to keep for myself.  My long-held desire for a child had been fulfilled, and I bought the brick full of other big desires: to write all the time, to set down all the things I hadn’t taken the time to (did I have the time?) when my girl was a toddler. I thought, I’ll scribble and scribble and catch up.  It will hold lots, I’ll carry it everywhere…

But The Notebook, my brick, feels like it weighs about five pounds, and its dense, rounded, just-above-handbook size is a factor of its tumbling off your lap, out of your tote bag, and of its generally taxing waywardness.  I have wished many a time that I was a bigger, stronger, wider-shouldered person, all so I could use this notebook with ease and happiness.  I had just spent a couple of years lugging around a roly-poly baby who demanded to be held all the time; I could wrangle an 18 lb deaf cat into its hated pet taxi.  But this notebook was going to break my back, because I wanted to have it with me all the time, everywhere.  So I could become the Herculean writer I wanted to be.  At the beginning (and now, at the end, with only 8 pages to go), when you open the notebook, one side is thin and wimpy; you have to rest the remaining right-hand pages on another book to write on them.  In the middle of the journal (and oh what it takes to get there in one of these stubby contenders!), it won’t lay open.  It wants to close up sluggishly, mid-thought, like a brainless sea creature whose nerves are set off by drifting oceanic chemicals you can’t see.

Writing a LOT had been the initial idea with The Notebook, and cramming it, being economical with paper and copious with words.  When I began writing in it, I used each and every quadrille line and made myself a little blinder than I already am.  Then the light bulb went off and I began to skip a line, but I felt like a lavish and wasteful Big Capitalist, sure to be swallowed up when the earth turns in on itself like a dried stoneless peach.  (Where would thrifty recyclers, among whom the Aristotelian ideal of my soul dwells, be?  Sitting up there on the branches of the heavenly tree Yggdrasil looking down at me in their long, natural, green-cotton robes?  They would be barefoot of course, but their feet would be CLEAN.)

The brick notebook is filled now.  That feels strange to say.  It happened only a few days ago, in the interstices of the cataclysms of our moderately sized emotional world:   we finally decided to go abroad as a family, finally decided to get our little house painted to sell (we are do-it-yourselvers very reluctantly giving in to the realities of jobs dominating our lives and to our limited physical capacities), and monitored Hurricane Gustav as it passed over my parents’ Louisiana home.  I kept writing in the margins of the brick’s filled pages, trying to make sure it was “complete”.  How could it be?  It wasn’t a novel with a beginning, middle and end.  I at least wanted to write R. I. P. or Om at the end.  It just filled up, sitting on my big cluttered desk, like a stomach filling up with odds and ends rather than with one hefty meal.  Then the nervous ritual of searching for a new notebook to continue in began.  I decided it wouldn’t be a fancy new one, because writing is what I do every day and I didn’t want to encourage myself to be arch or prim or special about it.  I found a simple spiral school-supply notebook in my desk drawer at work, and put it in a macho black executive-looking cover to disguise it for day-job purposes.  Only a few entries in it so far, but one includes the words “this is the right kind of notebook to have–flat and wide”.