How many conventional things can one person do and still retain an original streak of thinking? I was going to say “original mind” but that sounds too grand. I’m a demographic as much as I am an individual: woman, mother, wife, American, Easterner, academic. My mediocrity stuns me. My ordinariness is an object of fascination. (To me, that is, and my self-interest itself is an ordinary preoccupation.) Do I possess a shred of individual will? The preachers will say it’s predetermined but I can choose good or evil; the scientists will say I’m hard-wired and it’s all genetic or environmental; the literary scholars will say the culture birthed my mind and everything I write (they like to think that writers just burp out an articulation of the zeitgeist rather than actually being creative). Yet I retain the illusion of a distinctive self, a snowflake of a mind.
So, yeah, I do yoga like the other millions.
My first yoga class was in highschool, and it definitely beat volleyball. I could wear dance leggings and a t-shirt and lie on a mat in the dark. I could contemplate the yoga teacher’s personal journey that had led her to this room of sarcastic teenaged girls, and questions of the universe like why people become magicians.
I go to one yoga class where my wonderful teacher has us make intentions for our practice, and say Omm at the end. I go to another yoga class where my wonderful teacher tells us how the body works, and brings out a two-foot-tall skeleton to demonstrate how the poses move our joints. I like both these classes, the spiritual and the physiological. I like when Julie picks up her skeleton prop and carries it to the center of the room to shows us how turning the thighbones opens the lower back. And I like when Lynn tells us to make our hands into a diamond shape and lay them on our pelvises to send the negative energy out of our bodies. I love systems of meaning.
Along with yoga, I have done so many other conventional things! Like blogging! And writing screenplays! And being sent to a mental hospital and then going to grad school for poetry! (I think it was a prereq for the Iowa Writer’s Workshop in the ’80s.) And marrying a man, and having kids, and living in a two-story brick house. Drinking chardonnay in the winter and sauvignon blanc in the summer. Planting mums. Talking about the weather. Coloring my hair. Wearing a Timex. Liking France, and Spain. Thank god I didn’t drive a car between the ages of 20 and 35 or I would have not one eccentricity to console myself with!
I should not have left them on the roof of my car. Husband said, “You go through a pair of those every year, I swear.” I didn’t remind him of the manuscript he left on the roof of his car, an unbound ream of paper, that we had to chase all over Fourth Street for. Long marriage, you see, long history that one can draw or not draw upon during arguments. Then he apologized because sometimes it’s five years between pairs, and he loses stuff all the time. Like our calendar-and-address book in 1996. That was a car-roof situation, too.
These aviator glasses made me feel like Linda Hamilton in ”The Terminator,” all abs and army pants and guns. Invincible. I don’t resemble her. I wore them even though I’d dropped them on the kitchen floor and cracked a lens. They weighed nothing, unlike the heavy tortoiseshell plastic frames I favored, which invoke an Audrey Hepburn sort of glamor. These were more badass, like I may be wearing a skirt or planting daylilies, but you better think about it before you toss me in that menopausal soccer mom cubbyhole. Think twice. I slide these frames into place and glide out into the apocalyptic world.
Writing about objects is primarily retrospective: this carpet is from my mother’s 1970s trip to Morocco. In what way does an object look forward?
There are four kinds of poems, someone told me: praise, lament, elegy, and prayer. It interested me that these could be defined according to both time and attitude. Praise and lament deal with the present, elegy with the past, and prayer with the future. Could an object act as a prayer? Could I think about it in terms of the future?
The carpet is a happy object. Old but not very valuable, it lies under our dining table, and we don’t worry too much about it getting dirty. We spend many hours around our table, eating and talking, doing homework, reading, paying bills. When we’re at the table, our two dogs like to be under it, so though our house has many rooms, often six creatures can be found in this small place (seven when oldest child is at home). The table on top of the red carpet has a gravitational pull. It’s also near the food.
When we lived in a small apartment in Barcelona, I noticed one day that all five of us were sitting on the couch, each engaged in an individual activity. The apartment was small (I thought of it as a sailboat) but not that small! We had become accustomed to being right next to each other. Oldest child went on a school trip that year and called us several times. Her friends asked why she kept calling us. “We’re a close family,” she said. For a year we lived in quite a tight space. Now we have more space but the table is the center of the house. The dogs squabble on the carpet and tangle in our legs.
The Moroccan carpet recalls my mother’s adventure, with two women friends, in Morocco in the 1970s, a trip during which they were often the only women in a restaurant or bar, or within sight. Their rental car broke down in the desert. They had an excellent time. The carpet reminds me of travel, and the way in which the concept of ‘global village’ is true in some ways and an illusion in others, because places are fundamentally different. The rolling hills of my Adams County may recall Tuscany, but the Apple Harvest Festival is rooted here—would the band called ‘Mason Vixen’ be playing in Pienza? Would the Montepulciano elementary school have a hoedown, with square dancing and hammer dulcimers?
My carpet was a prayer for a happy, busy home, or at least an eclectic one, with room for objects from disparate places and times. And the objects should be attached to experiences, my red carpet said. This one can fly me right to Morroco, where my mother is sitting in a tent having tea, afraid the carpet seller takes her for a sucker. She’s going to settle on a price, and some weeks later she and my sister and I are going to heft and drag a heavy wrapped object into our living room and unroll it. “Isn’t that green great?” my mother is going to say. And then, since it’s the 1970s and we’re one woman and two girls on our own, we’re going to put on either Carole King or Earth, Wind, and Fire, and dance on the rug, to break it in.
When I consider an object, time just dissolves.
I am happy to have some of these. Today our local Wal-Mart announced the return of its layaway program. Exciting! Wal-Mart finally got rid of its anachronistic layaway program, only to revive it in these dire times.
I am happy to have some of these because I like being able to buy food, and pay the mortgage, and get the refrigerator leak repaired, and take the kids to the dentist, and pay for a background check so I can volunteer in the public school district, and go to yoga class, and refill my prescriptions, and buy plane tickets, and send oldest child cookies at college, and buy lobsters for husband’s birthday dinner, and pay the medical co-pays, and take the train to New York and go to MOMA, and pay for the part of college that the college says we’re able to, and subscribe to The New Yorker because it makes me think, and buy socks and a new frying pan.
I am happy to have some of these, and that I grew up in a lucky place and time with parents who had dollars, so I could read all kinds of books and travel and go to college and be able to earn some myself. All the reading and traveling and having parents who sponsored orphans and volunteered for Headstart let me know that not everyone had the kind of money we did—we had enough. Susan Gregory Thomas wrote in The New York Times (“Back to the Land, Reluctantly,” Oct. 16, 2011) that she learned to grow food and raise chickens because, after a divorce, taking care of two children, she was poor and hungry. I’m not hungry. (Knock on wood. I have a duffel bag of coins in the attic just in case.) Our newest car is twelve years old, I realized today. But oh, we are lucky.